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ACCOUNTdown Reviews USAID Effectiveness to Build for Future

August 10th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children and Co-Chair of MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group.

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Recently, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) launched the ACCOUNTdown campaign and scorecard to push for greater aid effectiveness reform by the Obama Administration.  ACCOUNTdown focuses on the U.S. government’s progress to strengthening its international development programs’ accountability and country ownership.

The ACCOUNTdown report highlighted a range of improvements by various U.S. development agencies and departments. We welcome these incremental shifts, but with just less than a year and half left in this Administration, we want to see more.

We know from Save the Children’s own work that embedding accountability and ownership in programs can have an impact on the ground. Whether it is health, education, or nutrition programming, the most lasting impact occurs when local potential is nurtured to enable countries and communities to achieve their own aspirations. Aid can and should do that better. Here are four things that could make a difference now.

  • Too much USAID funding is still being driven by priorities set by the U.S. government in Washington, rather than aligned with host-country strategies. When aid is driven by Washington, then Washington funding goes away, so does a lot of the progress. But when aid is part of a partnership with local communities, governments and civil society, then the results are not only continued by the people in those countries – they are magnified.
  • The introduction of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in 2010 set a target for increased direct flows of U.S. government resources to developing countries. But partnership is more than that; USAID must start measuring how it’s increasing local capacity more broadly.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) was created in 2004 in part to enable more country-driven approaches; their country compact development process is a good example of aligning with host country priorities. MCC should work to increase the use of country systems and local partners in high-performing countries to extend country ownership.
  • The U.S. government has made progress in helping countries finance their own development and should continue to do so. This was illustrated in the announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative and PEPFAR’s launch of the innovative health financing initiative which reflect how the U.S. is supporting domestic resource mobilization for development.

The U.S. government can take many additional steps in the next 18 months to further its commitment to country ownership and accountability to have a greater impact through its on-the-ground programming.

As an active MFAN member, we look forward to future progress reports from the ACCOUNTdown campaign as a way to ensure the Obama administration honors its commitments to aid effectiveness.

On Evaluations, State Steps Up to the Plate

July 30th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from Diana Ohlbaum, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group.

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The State Department is accustomed to taking physical risks.  Political risks, not so much.

Foreign Service Officers work in all the world’s most dangerous and difficult places.  They promote judicial and security sector reform to prevent conflict, join with the international community to protect refugees during crises, and support reconstruction and stabilization once violence abates.  But taking a close, hard look at how well their own programs are working, and making those findings public, has been a much harder pill to swallow.

Last week marked a big step forward in the State Department’s commitment to evaluations and transparency.  With little fanfare, the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources announced on its website that it will publish full texts of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis.  This is a significant improvement from its most recent evaluation policy, issued in January, which had required only that summaries of evaluations be posted publicly, and that the site be updated only once a year.  State also made the list of evaluations much easier to browse, and included a new link to PEPFAR’s evaluations.

Compared with USAID, or the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which have far more demanding evaluation requirements, these may be small steps.  But State is still transitioning from a secretive, cable-writing culture to one of sharing and learning.  The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), released this spring, seeks to thrust State into the 21st century by, among other things, enhancing its use of data and analytics and bringing more rigor to its evaluations.

Even before the QDDR was finalized, however, State had conducted 138 foreign assistance funded evaluations, with 38 more in progress and 71 planned.  It had revised its evaluation policy to ensure that it took account of the legitimate differences between evaluating foreign assistance programs and evaluating diplomatic operations.  While some of the changes appeared to be steps backward from the 2012 policy, the very fact that the evaluation requirements were made permanent should be seen as a victory.  Many State Department officials reportedly had believed, or hoped, that the mandate would be allowed to quietly expire.

Still, hard work remains to be done at State.  The QDDR pledged that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs would develop “a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluating security assistance,” which we at MFAN hope will conform to industry standards of scientific rigor, independence, and transparency.  State should commission, as USAID has done, an assessment of the value and quality of its evaluations to date, as well as an analysis of how the evaluations are being used to inform policy and program decisions.  More thought must be given to involving local participants and beneficiaries in deciding what counts as success and whether it has been achieved.  Most importantly, the Secretary should give his blessing to legislation, now being developed in the House and Senate, to codify the evaluation requirements and ensure that security assistance is not let off the hook.

The fear of conducting evaluations and making them public is understandable, since some – particularly on Capitol Hill – see them as a political bludgeon instead of as a learning tool.  But while audits and investigations tell us whether funds were properly spent, evaluations help us understand how and why a particular outcome was achieved.  Without that knowledge, we are left to swing blindly at problems and hope for the best.

Now that the State Department has scored a base hit on evaluations, who’s next at bat?  All eyes are on you, Department of Defense!

MFAN Launches “ACCOUNTdown to 2017″ Tracking Progress to Strengthen U.S. Foreign Aid

July 28th, 2015
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July 28, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

Today the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network is launching a new campaign, ACCOUNTdown to 2017, to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance. With ACCOUNTdown, we take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and the goals we laid out last year in MFAN’s The Way Forward and outline further steps that should be taken over the next 18 months to advance progress.

Bipartisan leadership over the past two decades has elevated and enhanced the ability of U.S. foreign assistance to confront threats, reduce poverty, and advance our interests. As the United States continues to face significant challenges around the world, effective foreign assistance remains as imperative as ever. Robust development policy and practice help support empowered citizens to hold their governments accountable and build local capacity to achieve sustainable results.

Over the next 18 months, we will push for and assess progress, and publicly report our findings. We urge Congress and the Administration to work together to institutionalize existing reform commitments around two critical pillars of development – accountability and country ownership.

MFAN Event, 7/28: ACCOUNTdown to 2017

July 23rd, 2015
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ACCOUNTdown to 2017: Strengthening a Bipartisan Legacy of Modernizing U.S. Foreign Assistance

 Please join the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) for a discussion on how Congress and the Administration can solidify existing reforms and further progress on aid effectiveness.

Tuesday July 28, 2015 8:30 – 10:00 am
The Holeman Lounge at the National Press Club
529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor

Remarks by:

Representative Ted Poe
Congressman from Texas’ 2nd District

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar
Former U.S. Senator & President, The Lugar Center

Carolyn Miles
President and CEO, Save the Children & MFAN Co-Chair

Followed by a Panel Discussion featuring:
Daniella Ballou-Aares, Senior Adviser for Development to the Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
The Honorable Eric G. Postel, Associate Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Nancy Lee, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Millennium Challenge Corporation
John Norris, Executive Director, Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative, Center for American Progress

Moderated by

George Ingram, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution & MFAN Co-Chair

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A light breakfast will be provided
Please RSVP to Jill MacArthur, jmacarthur@modernizeaid.net or 202-776-1586.

Another step forward by USAID on the road to aid transparency

July 6th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Sally Paxton, U.S. Representative for Publish What You Fund and member of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group, on USAID’s recently released IATI Cost Management Plan. This piece originally appeared on PWYF’s blog on Monday, July 6.

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On July 1st, Publish What You Fund released its 2015 U.S. Aid Transparency Review, which assesses the progress of six U.S. donors on their efforts to publish high quality aid information.  The Busan deadline – December 2015 – is when the U.S. has committed to fully implementing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).  And important commitments are at stake in the Financing for Development conference in mid-July in Addis Ababa.  So at Publish What You Fund, we thought a mid-year progress report would be an important undertaking to see where these U.S. agencies are and what needs to be done in the next six months.

The Review found that the progress of the various agencies was mixed – only two of the four are “on track” to meet the 2015 deadline.  For a number of years, USAID has lagged in its performance of our Annual Transparency Index, coming in at the bottom of the “Fair” category in both 2013 and 2014.

But USAID is turning an important corner.  In our 2015 Review, it was the biggest improver, jumping 22 points from its 2014 score to reach the “good” category for the first time.  Behind this improvement was the effort of a small cross-cutting working group.  Consistent with USAID’s Open Government Plancommitment to undertake both an analysis of its IATI capabilities and what it would take – both in terms of resources and steps – this working group produced a four-phase cost management plan.

On June 4th, the Acting Administrator approved three out of the four phases of the plan.  Additionally, the intent is to have IATI folded into its Development Information System, so that it is integrated with its other information platforms, thus obviating the need for Phase IV.  And on July 1st, USAID made its International Aid Transparency Initiative Cost Management plan public.

Kudos!

One might sensibly ask why what seems like such a bureaucratic exercise is important?  There are a few reasons – which cover both the content and the way in which USAID is conducting its efforts to achieve robust publication of its aid information:

  • In order to implement the IATI standard, agencies need to identify what it publishes, where the gaps are, and what it will take to be fully compliant, both in terms of resources and processes. The working group approached this in a pragmatic way. In fact, phase I (which were internal steps that could be taken without resource implications) was completed in April – before the approval of phrases II and III. This thorough internal review will help to ensure efforts are sustainable and long lasting.
  • The working group consulted with the stakeholder community on its initial plan – prior to agency approval. This informal outreach underscored the agency’s commitment to practice
  • This same practice of consulting prior to a final report was also done in connection with USAID’s Aid Transparency Pilot Assessment, where two consultations were held – again, prior to reaching the final conclusions.

The plan isn’t perfect.  The published cost management plan, for example, is very light on the “cost” part.  And publishing a plan doesn’t guarantee success.  But it is very hard to deliver without a vision on how to get to the finish line. Top USAID leadership will need to give the working group’s plan its continued support so that implementation moves forward on time and on budget.

But this is a really positive step.  So congratulations to USAID.  We look forward to your continued forward progress on the road to aid transparency.