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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

The 2013 Aid Transparency Index: MCC Tops The List, But Room For Improvement In U.S. Government

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Melissa Kaplan, advocacy manager for aid reform and effectiveness at InterAction. Kaplan writes about the findings from the 2013 Aid Transparency Index, which was released last week. This post originally appeared on InterAction’s website.

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Aid Transparency Index-MCCThe 2013 Aid Transparency Index released this month by Publish What You Fund had good news for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), but not as rosy news for other U.S. agencies.

The MCC—a U.S. foreign assistance agency fighting global poverty—tops this year’s Aid Transparency Index. The index evaluates dozens of aid donors from around the globe on their transparency efforts. MCC snagged the no. 1 spot with an overall rating of 89 percent (out of 100), putting it at the top of the relatively small category of donors rated “very good” on aid transparency. The GAVI Alliance, the UK Department for International Development, and the United Nations Development Program were the other groups that landed in this category.

The report praised the MCC’s progress on transparency, and congratulated the agency for publishing high-quality information in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an initiative working to make information about spending on development easier to access, understand, and use. It also pointed out that all of the MCC’s current Compacts and Threshold Programs are published in IATI XML on MCC’s website, and the information on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard includes planning, obligation, and spending data.

“(MCC) is amongst the biggest improvers in the 2013 Index and is the first U.S. agency to enter the top three,” the report states.

Other U.S. agencies that handle foreign assistance did not fare quite as well in the index. USAID earned a “fair” score of 44 percent, coming in at number 22 out of 67 agencies, while the Department of Defense fell into the “poor” category, with a number 27 ranking and a score of 33 percent. The State Department ranked even worse than DOD with a number 40 ranking and a score of 22 percent. However, it is worth noting that these U.S. agencies have all improved from the 2012 Aid Transparency Index in their overall rankings on the list.

At an event co-hosted by the Brookings Institution and Oxfam launching the Aid Transparency Index Report, David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director of Publish What You Fund, noted that there is still plenty of room for improvement overall among aid donors in terms of transparency, given that the average agency score in the index was only 32.6 percent. He emphasized that it’s not just the quantity but also the quality of data being published that is important.

The broad indicators Publish What You Fund used in its 2013 report methodology were:

  • Commitment to aid transparency—10 percent weight: This measures the extent to which organizations have shown overall commitment to making their aid transparent.
  • Publication at organization level—25 percent weight: This category reflects the availability of general planning and financial information.
  • Publication at activity level—65 percent weight: This category captures the extent to which organizations make available aid information pertaining to specific in-country project activities.

Within these categories, there were 39 more specific indicators used to assess donors’ success, or lack thereof, in sharing data in a transparent manner. Agencies got higher scores for timely information available in an easily usable format (in other words, more credit was given for data published in IATI XML format than for Excel spreadsheets, which in turn get better marks than website or PDF formats).

The report makes three general recommendations:

  • All development actors need to publish more information to IATI. It should be published consistently, cover all relevant IATI fields, and include information beyond financial data.
  • Publishers need to improve their data quality to make it more useful. It needs to be timely, and conform to IATI standard so it can be compared between organizations.
  • Everyone can benefit from using IATI data.

For details, see information on the full Aid Transparency Index 2013 report.

MCC certainly deserves kudos for its excellent showing in this year’s index, and we hope its commendable commitment to transparency will continue. InterAction would also like to see other U.S. foreign assistance agencies take up the challenge to provide more transparent and useful data to the public. While more information being published to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard (particularly by USAID) in recent months is a welcome development, we would still like to see this data be made available in as accessible and user friendly a format as possible. We hope that the 2013 Aid Transparency Report will encourage the administration to keep aid transparency as a priority with an eye on making USAID and the Department of Defense the most improved agencies in the world in next year’s Aid Transparency Index.

 

MCC Named Most Transparent Donor in 2013 Aid Transparency Index

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
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Today Publish What You Fund released their 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) and out of the 67 donors worldwide assessed, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) tops the list. The 2013 ATI is the third annual index, and this year marks the first time a U.S. Government agency has taken the top spot. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations comes in at Number 2, while the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) takes third.

2013 ATI Ranking

The index is based on information donors publish about their development projects and is then scored on 39 indicators divided into three categories: commitment to aid transparency; organization-level publication of financial information and general plans; and the availability of country-specific project activities. Format of the data also played a major role in this year’s rankings. Donors that publish data in machine-readable formats such as XML, per the IATI Standard, are rewarded because it makes the data easier to compare and use.

Five other USG agencies were among those assessed by the index, though none made it into the top tier “Very Good” category with the MCC. The Treasury Department came in at #19 and USAID came in at #22 in the “Fair” category, showing quite a bit of improvement in comparison to last year’s rankings. The Department of Defense came in at #27 and the Department of State at #40, both in the “Poor” category and PEPFAR in at #50 in the “Very Poor” category.

U.S. progress in terms of making aid data available is notable—and the State Department announced this week that the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) joined State, DOD, USAID, MCC, and Treasury in adding data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. But it is essential that the data be useful. Publishing to the IATI Standard, the only open data standard for aid information, ensures that data is comparable and usable for donors and recipients of aid.

The U.S. has set a goal of publishing 70 percent of its aid data to IATI by the end of the year and has pledged full implementation of its IATI commitment by 2015, though it seems unlikely they will meet these goals at the current pace.

What We’re Hoping To See In The Next Release Of USAID Data

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Laia Grino, InterAction’s Senior Manager for Transparency, Accountability, and Results. Laia writes about improvements InterAction would like to see in terms of USAID’s data for the fourth quarter of the year before its posted on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. The post originally appeared here.

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The fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013 (FY2013) recently came to an end. This means that over the next few weeks, USAID will be working to put together its fourth quarter data for public release through the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. This summer, USAID posted information on more than 50,000 financial transactions for the first three quarters of FY2013. As we noted at the time, though the data wasn’t perfect, having information at that level of detail was a welcome and noteworthy development. We very much believe in the aid transparency mantra: “Publish what you can, improve over time.” In keeping with that spirit of continuous progress, below we offer some recommendations for what USAID could do to make its next data release more useful.

1.       Use actual award titles: Too many of the award titles on the Dashboard look like this—“LOC Grant,” “The purpose of this modification is to…,” “Incremental funding to…”—instead of this, “Time to Learn Project (EDC).” As one colleague put it, these are more like entries in USAID’s checkbook than actual award titles that match how USAID otherwise presents its work. A simple way to illustrate this? Google “LOC Grant” and see if you can find more information about that award. Google “Time to Learn, EDC” and this detailed page from EDC’s website is the first search result.

2.       Include award descriptions: These award titles are even more problematic when you consider that there are no award descriptions. This means that often the only fields that give you any sense of what an award involves are category and sector (e.g., Education and Social Services > Basic Education). This is not enough. As one potential user of USAID data noted, people need information on project objectives or even intended results. Better descriptions with these details do exist (on USAID Mission websites, this interactive map on the main USAID site, etc.). Though easier said than done, these detailed descriptions need to make it onto the Dashboard.

3.       Provide total award amounts, not just obligations: The data USAID released usually includes the amount of funding obligated and spent at different points in time. Without total award amounts, however, it is difficult to put these individual transactions in context. It is useful to know that USAID obligated $100,000 to Organization X in the third quarter of FY2013. It would be even more useful to know whether that is out of a total award amount of $1 million or $100 million. Again, this is information that is available elsewhere.

4.       Start adding sub-national geographic information: Happily, this is something USAID is already working on. In 2012, it provided funding to a group of organizations to establish the AidData Center for Development Policy, part of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN). Among other things, this center will work with USAID’s GeoCenter to geocode aid projects, enabling “USAID and the broader global development community to more effectively target, coordinate, deliver, and evaluate their aid investments.” Once this information is incorporated into USAID’s data, it will also enable government officials in partner countries to see how much aid funding is going to their constituencies and help civil society hold governments accountable.

There are other improvements USAID could make. These range from the seemingly nitpicky but actually crucial (like making sure that unique identifiers for organizations are present, consistent and accurate), to the more obviously important (like providing information on results). The way in which data is currently presented on the Dashboard is also an obstacle to use. Still, making these changes would go a long ways to making this data useful to all stakeholders. And that is, after all, the point.

The (Re-)Birth of the Rethinking US Development Policy Program

Monday, September 9th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Ben Leo, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. This post outlines CGD’s new Rethinking US Development Policy program–formerly the Rethinking US Foreign Assistance program–which will explore the full range of development tools the US can use to achieve greater aid effectiveness. This post originally appeared on CGD’s blog.

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The day of reckoning has finally arrived. The Rethinking US Foreign Assistance’s director, Sarah Jane Staats, has officially left the building. All of us are anticipating amazing things from her at the MCC; just as she delivered during her time at CGD.

I now have the humbling opportunity to take the reins of this well-established and influential program. [Along with the unenviable task of meeting the high standards of those who rode before – Sheila Herrling, Connie Veillette, and Sarah Jane.] Thankfully, I am inheriting a wonderful team that Sarah Jane built, including Sarah Rose (formerly of the MCC and USAID) and Will McKitterick.

I arrive at this task just as US development policy is approaching a crossroads. The days of expanding, altruistic U.S. aid budgets are gone. The US political environment demands value, impact, and strategic relevance. Beyond our borders, the development finance landscape has changed even more dramatically. Many developing economies have boomed over the past decade – along with the availability of domestic revenues and private capital. Developing countries are much less interested in aid than they are in U.S. investment, trade, and technology. This means that grants have already become a smaller tool for executing US development policy (and foreign policy too). At the same time, the US will continue to use foreign assistance to confront fragility in places like Haiti and Pakistan. As my colleagues have pointed out, it’s essential that the US government does a much, much better job at this (see here, here, and here).

To reflect the changing times, the Rethink program will change as well. I will be taking a more expansive view – broadening the program’s scope from a singular focus on U.S. foreign assistance to a wider assessment of U.S. development policy tools. In doing this, I will be drawing upon the Center’s immense in-house expertise across a full range of issues.

My colleagues and I will be launching the new Rethinking U.S. Development Policy program (and revamped webpages) soon. While some things will change, we will continue with CGD’s tried and true monitoring of US aid programs. We’ll be closely watching things such as the MCC , Power Africa, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, and Feed the Future. Rethink’s periodic monitoring products play an important role in the broader policy debate, and I look forward to continuing them in the future.

But beyond this, here’s a sneak peek of the kinds of big questions that we’re kicking around. Please let me know if you have early reactions, suggestions, or ideas.

  • What Does the Growth of Developing Countries’ Domestic Resources Mean For US Policy? According to IMF data, African governments’ domestic revenues (excluding grants) are projected to reach $375 billion next year, up from roughly $90 billion a decade ago. All but three African countries have witnessed at least a doubling of domestically mobilized revenues. What does this mean for a US development model that is still largely based on being a service provider of last resort?
  • How Can US Policy Better Leverage Private Investment Flows? The Obama Administration’s most recent initiatives – such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Power Africa – aim to unlock the development power of private investment. Yet, the preeminent US investment agency (OPIC) remains under-staffed and constrained by outdated authorities. Beyond OPIC, private sector development tools are scattered across countless US agencies. The new Unleashing OPIC proposal from Todd Moss, Beth Schwanke, and me aims to improve this dynamic. Are there other US policy tools that should be pursued more aggressively as well?
  • Has The Time Finally Come For A More Creative Trade Policy and Facilitation Agenda?  The Clinton Administration launched AGOA. The Bush Administration completed free trade agreements with 17 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Since then, US trade policy has been largely stuck in neutral (although Congress did finally approve agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea). Yet, there is an impressive new US Trade Representative and the need to reauthorize preference programs like AGOA soon. Will the US seize this moment with a creative new trade facilitation and trade policy agenda for developing countries (as my colleague Kim Elliott and others have urged)?
  • Does U.S. Assistance Align With What Beneficiaries Care Most About?  Public attitude surveys in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa consistently suggest that people’s most pressing concerns relate to: (i) jobs and income; (ii) economic management; (iii) infrastructure (in Africa); and (iv) crime and security (in Latin America). How much should US policymakers be seeking out and reflecting these widely held local priorities when developing engagement strategies?

Please let me know what you think.  My colleagues and I aim to continue using the Rethink program’s great platform for exchanging ideas and views. I feel honored and humbled for the opportunity to lead the new Rethink into the future.

Planting the Seeds of Sustainability in South Sudan

Monday, August 26th, 2013
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See below for a guest post on how USAID is using cost-benefit analysis to measure the impact of development programs and, ultimately, use the data to make these programs more sustainable. This post originally appeared on USAID’s Impact blog and the State Department’s Dipnote blog.

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In the world’s newest nation of South Sudan, the legacy of four decades of civil war continues to challenge efforts to gather reliable current statistics on health, education, the economy and other factors. USAID and other development partners are seeking to help the South Sudanese people build a robust and resilient economy. Key to that effort is modernizing and expanding the agriculture sector. Because decades of war often forced people from their land, South Sudan as a whole lost much of its agricultural knowledge base. As a result, most of South Sudan’s food is imported, despite significant arable land, plentiful water and good quality soil. In spite of the challenges, most South Sudanese are still involved in agriculture, typically as subsistence farmers producing crops such as maize, sorghum, cassava and groundnuts. Production levels are low, however, and even farmers in the most fertile region—the “Greenbelt” that crosses the three Equatoria states—are affected by a number of adverse conditions, including poor quality seeds, deficient farming equipment, lack of roads to get their goods to market and post-harvest losses due to inadequate or nonexistent storage.

A farmer inspects his crops. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

A farmer inspects his crops. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

To examine the effects of USAID’s assistance in South Sudan’s agriculture sector since 2012, a USAID team led by economist Paul Pleva recently completed a cost-benefit analysis of the $26 million in USAID funds currently being spent annually in South Sudan in support of the Feed the Future Initiative.  Part of the analysis examined two different techniques for improving crop yields, both being promoted under USAID’s Food, Agribusiness and Rural Markets (FARM) project.  Begun in 2010, the FARM project seeks to boost agricultural growth through improved inputs, strengthen market linkages, improve the conditions for private sector investment and improve infrastructure to facilitate trade.

Pleva analyzed the two techniques being implemented through the FARM project to improve crop yields. One technique required relatively expensive farming inputs, but promised potentially dramatic yield increases.  A second technique focused on more simple improvements such as improved seeds, proper weeding and seed row spacing for more modest yield increases.  The team observed actual outcomes produced by the two techniques and considered the sustainability of each.

Pleva led a collaborative effort to collect data from multiple sources, identify inconsistencies and compare the quality of those sources. He used inexpensive technologies such as Google Apps to ensure that USAID implementing partners around the world could provide input.

Cheaper farming techniques improve farming yields and result in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

Cheaper farming techniques improve farming yields and result in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

After comparing the results, the USAID team found that of the two interventions, the cheaper technique of improving farming yields resulted in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers and provided a much better chance of sustainability after the project ends.  The evidence for this finding was significant and, as a result, USAID turned the focus of the project toward the cheaper and more sustainable intervention.

Small sums can generate big returns—in this case for both farmers and USAID. USAID made a modest investment of resources—the staff time of a small team—to conduct the cost-benefit analysis, and in doing so, increased the development impact of taxpayer dollars significantly. Farmers in South Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, stand to benefit economically from the findings of this analysis—a potential path out of poverty.

By using economic analysis to prove that simple techniques can best assist South Sudan’s farmers, USAID had avoided an all too common trap in development—unsustainable projects that fall apart when donors conclude a project or cease assistance to a sector or country. Lessons like this one not only save money in the short-term, but by helping people to increase their household income and food security they also decrease the likelihood that emergency funds will be needed to help these communities in the future.