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Congress Eyes Greater Transparency in Foreign Aid, This Time the Timing Could be Right

November 24th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Lori Rowley, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group and Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center. This post is part of MFAN’s ACCOUNTdown to 2017 Dialogue Series.


From the perspective of both U.S. taxpayers and recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, it’s been a very positive few weeks on both sides of the Capitol. Legislation to advance greater transparency of U.S. foreign assistance programs has now been approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), I staffed the Senator when he authored the Senate companion bill  that Congressman Ted Poe introduced in the 112th Congress and has continued to introduce in every Congress since then, The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. The bill narrowly missed enactment in the waning days of that Congress – late in December of 2012 – despite a unanimous vote by the full House.

Since that time, interest in the topic of foreign aid effectiveness has not waned. Neither has the need for it. In fact, in today’s world, maintaining the effectiveness of our taxpayer dollars in keeping starving people alive with critical food aid, investing in women, smallholder farmers so they can improve their crop production and in turn feed their families, and supporting  HIV/AIDS victims with life-saving medical treatment is more vital than ever.  Our financial resources in supporting people in the developing world be able to move from living in crisis to living in stability are stretched to their maximum, with destabilized governments, drought and continued lack of access to water and basic education a constant across much of the world. We need to see where we’re investing, what we’re getting in return, and how we can make progress to move these countries and their citizens from being dependent on our aid to becoming our trading partners.

In my current position at The Lugar Center, we continue to endorse the critical investment in developing countries in order to promote a more prosperous and stable world.  We believe that an important component of this investment is ensuring its effectiveness through transparency, and we work to promote it. The Obama Administration took important steps in this area, with the creation of the webpage, Here taxpayers are now able to see how much of their taxpayer dollars go to a specific country and for what purpose. Further, the transfer of this data to the International Aid Transparency Registry provides even greater transparency regarding the flow of aid funds into each developing country by a host of donors, NGOs and others from across the globe.

While some federal agencies responsible for administering U.S. foreign aid are already living up to executive branch commitments to be more transparent about where and for what purpose taxpayer dollars are being spent, regrettably not all of them are. The posting of this information to, is uneven and often incomplete. Only the Millennium Challenge Corporation has received a rating of “Very Good” on the Publish What You Fund 2014 Aid Transparency Index.  Frankly, all 22 federal agencies providing foreign assistance need to do better.

Here is where the Congress can play a critical role. By enacting legislation that requires all federal agencies providing foreign assistance to publish their data to the webpage, the legislative and executive branches of government become partners in working to ensure transparency, and thus accountability in our foreign assistance. That is a win-win for both U.S. taxpayers and people across the globe who receive our aid. Locking in important steps to improve our foreign assistance seems ripe for action now, and I am hopeful that as we approach December of 2015, enactment of the Foreign Aid Accountability and Transparency Act won’t be a narrow miss as it was when I staffed this bill, but rather a full endorsement of foreign aid transparency and accountability by both the House and the Senate.

U.S.-based NGOs Response to Food Aid Cargo Preference Hearing

November 19th, 2015
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November 19, 2015

NGO Response to the Joint Hearing of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture of the Committee on Agriculture and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

As international development organizations addressing global hunger and malnutrition, we are deeply concerned by the misleading information presented in support of agriculture cargo preference (ACP) restrictions on U.S. food aid at the joint hearing entitled International Food Aid Programs: Transportation Perspectives.

As you know, U.S. international food aid supports the food and nutrition needs of 56 million children and families on average each year and, consequently, helps to stabilize situations that can become threats to our national security. We strongly believe that funding for humanitarian food assistance should be used for its intended purpose: to provide lifesaving emergency and development assistance to the most vulnerable.  Evidence shows that ACP restrictions on U.S. food aid are inefficient and costly, and result in considerable reductions in the volume of food aid provided to populations in need.

We therefore support efforts that reduce the burden of cargo preference on humanitarian food aid programs. Current ACP restrictions contribute to significant delays in delivering emergency food aid. The USDA Pilot study on Local and Regional Procurement showed that the combination of U.S. procurement and shipment on U.S. flag vessels increases the average delivery time by two-and-a-half months.[1] The impacts of delays can have severely adverse effects on children and other vulnerable populations.

Moreover, excess costs to U.S. food aid due to ACP restrictions range from $39 million to $50 million annually.[2] These costs divert humanitarian resources away from U.S. food aid that could otherwise assist as many as 1.4 million food insecure children and families. Three recent, detailed analyses of ACP restrictions on food aid demonstrate that the restrictions increase the costs to administer the U.S. international food aid program.[3] A robust econometric analysis found that ACP requirements “increased the total cost of shipping food aid by more than $200 million between January 2012 and May 2015 at an average of more than $50 million a year.”[4] Compounding the impact of these costs is the elimination of reimbursements to USAID to help offset ocean freight costs that was passed in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

The argument that ACP restrictions on food aid are needed to maintain the U.S. maritime fleet for national security purposes are unsupported. In fact, numerous studies conclude that ACP restrictions on food aid do not contribute to the overall stability of the U.S.-flagged fleet. Data shows that the size of the U.S.-flagged fleet is not correlated to the rise and fall of volumes of U.S. food aid. Nor is there evidence that the ACP restrictions on food aid support military capacity. From 2011 – 2013, only 34 of the 74 vessels that carried U.S. food aid were enrolled in the Military Security Program (MSP). However, those 34 ships carried only 18% of all U.S. international food aid during the same period. The vast majority of food aid – 82% – was transported on ships that are not registered in MSP and may not meet Department of Defense criteria as viable for military purposes.[5] Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports have long substantiated this general critique. In its most recent report on the subject, published in August 2015, GAO emphasized that agriculture cargo preference’s “contribution to sealift capacity is uncertain, and available mariner supply has not been fully assessed.”

Claims of negative impacts on the U.S. economy associated with removing ACP restrictions from U.S. food aid are often based on highly questionable methodology and “gross over estimations.”[6]  Potential impacts on jobs in the shipping and cargo industry are very low given that food aid transport is such a small part of the overall equation. U.S.-flagged preferences (including Jones Act trade) represent more than 1 billion metric tons of cargo annually compared to just 1.4 million metric tons from USAID (only half of which are subject to ACP requirements).[7] ,[8] Over the past decade, major ports that move food aid cargo have steadily increased their overall tonnage even while food aid tonnage has dropped by more than 70 percent.[9]

The U.S. government should no longer allow ACP restrictions to undermine the impact of U.S. food aid. Given the current number of global food security emergencies, it is more important than ever that U.S. food aid use taxpayer money responsibly by reaching as many people as possible. We urge Congress to reduce the burden of ACP on humanitarian food aid, and reject any actions that decrease the reach and effectiveness of international food aid programs.

Action Against Hunger
Action Aid USA
American Hindu World Service
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
Church World Service
Concern Worldwide
Faiths for Safe Water
Feed the Children
Global Poverty Project
Hellen Keller International
Islamic Relief USA
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN)
Oxfam America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
World Food Program USA


[1] USDA.

[2] USAID Fact Sheet, “Food Aid Reform: Behind the Numbers”; Mercier, Stephanie and Vincent H. Smith, “Military Readiness and Food Aid Cargo Preference: Many Costs and Few Benefits,” American Enterprise Institute. 2015.

[3] Bageant, Barrett and Lentz, 2010; George Mason University, 2015; Mercier, et al. 2015.

[4] Mercier, et al. 2015.

[5] Button, Kenneth, Wayne Ferris and Phillip Thomas, “The political economy of shipping US Food aid under the cargo preference regime,” George Mason University, 2015.

[6] Mercier, et al. 2015.

[7] U.S. Maritime Administration. “U.S.-Flag Waterborne Domestic Trade and Related Programs,”

[8] USAID.

[9] Ibid.

Letter to OMB Director Donovan on MFAN Priorities

November 19th, 2015
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November 17, 2015

Shaun Donovan, Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Donovan:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a reform coalition of international development advocates and practitioners focused on strengthening U.S. development policy and results, we urge you to solidify this Administration’s legacy of improved aid effectiveness.

President Obama’s sweeping Presidential Policy Directive #6 in 2010 declared that the U.S. government would “underscore the importance of country ownership and responsibility” and “pursue development through partnership, not patronage.” To implement this vision, the President vowed to “[work] closely with the Congress to establish a shared vision of the way forward on global development…[by seeking] greater flexibilities, including a reduction in earmarks and the ability to reallocate funding from less to more effective programs, while committing departments and agencies to a much higher standard of accountability for results.”

As you consider Presidential priorities for the final year of this administration, we urge you to renew political leadership for this agenda and further embed aid accountability through: enhanced transparency, monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and country ownership through the increased utilization of local institutions, systems, and resources to achieve local priorities.

In particular, we write to draw your attention to three critical areas where your immediate leadership is needed:

1.Catalyze Local Ownership of Resources, including Domestic Resource Mobilization

Where countries are willing, United States assistance can be transformational: encouraging them to generate more of their own revenue and spend it on development priorities, paving a path toward long-term poverty reduction and self-reliance. Recognizing the catalytic impact of such investment, at the 2015 Financing for Development Conference Treasury Secretary Jack Lew committed the U.S. to doubling support for public sector domestic resource mobilization over the next three years. To ensure the success of this important commitment, President Obama’s FY17 budget request should put the U.S. on a transparent path to fulfill its Addis Tax Initiative commitment to double total support for public sector domestic resource mobilization – in agencies including USAID, Treasury, and PEPFAR – in three years, aligned with MFAN’s principles of public sector domestic resource mobilization and without establishing additional earmarks or directives.

In keeping with the President’s vision, the U.S. government should also better align investment with country priorities by increasing the flexibility of programming funds instead of carving up aid into Washington-driven Congressional directives and Presidential initiatives.

2.Partner with Congress and Fulfill Major Commitments to Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability

In 2011, the Obama Administration committed to reporting to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and subsequently directed through OMB Bulletin No. 12-01 that federal agencies managing or implementing U.S. foreign assistance establish an automated and timely process for publishing foreign aid data to by December 2015. Yet to date, only ten of the more than 22 agencies that manage foreign assistance programs have published any data to, falling far short of meeting the OMB standard that “Data should be published with the level of detail, quality, and speed needed to enhance government development planning and empower citizens to hold their government accountable,” including “detail on where, when, on what, and to what effect (i.e. results) assistance is planned, obligated, and spent.”

We strongly urge you to redouble efforts to meet this commitment and endorse the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” (H.R. 3766/S. 2184) to advance this goal. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation was developed in consultation with multiple foreign assistance agencies and was recently approved unanimously by both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Enactment of this legislation would advance this administration’s mandate in the OMB bulletin that “The USG should institutionalize a process that facilitates the collection and dissemination of data on international assistance flows across agencies.”

3.Continue to Prioritize Food Aid Reform

Reform of U.S. food assistance that enables greater reach and impact would be a profound legacy of this administration. We urge you to once again make U.S. food aid reform one of your budget and legislative priorities and maintain the high-level leadership that is critical to delivering food assistance more effectively and efficiently in reaching millions of additional vulnerable people worldwide.

We thank you for your consideration of each of these recommendations and look forward to collaborating with you further to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance.


George Ingram
MFAN Co-Chair
Brookings Institution

Carolyn Miles
MFAN Co-Chair
Save the Children

Connie Veillette
MFAN Co-Chair
The Lugar Center

Letter to Secretary Kerry: Support the Foreign Aid Transparency & Accountability Act

November 17th, 2015
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November 11, 2015

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a coalition of international development practitioners and foreign policy experts committed to strengthening development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy, we are writing to urge your active support of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the Senate (S. 2184) by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and in the House (H.R. 3766) by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA). This bicameral, bipartisan legislation recently passed out of both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and is worthy of the Administration’s strong endorsement. Specifically, the bill seeks to embed transparency and evaluation practices in the work of all agencies that administer U.S. foreign aid – longstanding priorities for both you and President Obama that would deliver greater impact in the developing world and in the lives of those we are trying to reach with our assistance.

The United States has made strides in recent years in improving the quantity and quality of U.S. foreign assistance data available to the public. President Obama’s sweeping Presidential Policy Directive #6 in 2010 declared accountability as a priority of his administration, stating “The United States will…Set in place rigorous procedures to evaluate the impact of policies and programs, report on results and reallocate resources accordingly, incorporate relevant evidence and analysis from other institutions, and inform the policy and budget process” as well as “Undertake a more substantial investment of resources in monitoring and evaluation, including with a focus on rigorous and high-quality impact evaluations.”

The establishment of the Open Government Partnership and the website to centralize U.S. foreign assistance information continues to demonstrate this Administration’s commitment to openness and accountability, both to the American public and beneficiaries of U.S. assistance around the world. All three U.S. Open Government National Action Plans[1] have called for agencies administering foreign assistance to publish their aid information in line with the internationally agreed-upon standard, which is consistent with the U.S. commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Yet to date, only ten of the more than 22 agencies that manage foreign assistance programs have published any data to since the launch of the website five years ago.

We know that improved oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance has been a personal priority for you. Under your leadership, the State Department’s recent 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review affirms the importance of data-driven decision-making for diplomacy and development. In addition, the State Department’s recently updated evaluation policy includes publication of full evaluations of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis beginning this year.

We are grateful for your engagement on the aid effectiveness agenda over the years, including helping to approve similar legislation in both the 112th and 113th Congresses when you served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Given your commitment to accountability and effectiveness, both as Secretary of State and previously as United States Senator, we ask you to make known your strong support for passage of this sensible but critical legislation in order to sustain the ongoing efforts of this administration for years to come.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to continuing our work together to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance.


George Ingram
MFAN Co-Chair
Brookings Institution

Carolyn Miles
MFAN Co-Chair
Save the Children

Connie Veillette
MFAN Co-Chair
The Lugar Center



[1] “As outlined in past OMB guidance to Federal agencies, by December 2015, agencies managing or implementing U.S. foreign assistance will establish an automated and timely process for publishing foreign aid data to Throughout 2014, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, and other agencies will work to add or expand detailed, timely, and high-quality foreign assistance data to” (2nd Open Government U.S. National Action Plan, 2013)


Welcome to MFAN’s ACCOUNTdown to 2017 Dialogue Series

November 16th, 2015
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Coverage of the 2016 elections, now just under a year away, is inescapable these days, providing a constant reminder that the clock on the Obama Administration and the 114th Congress is quickly running out. This summer, MFAN launched the ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign as a way to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance. The goal of the campaign is simple: take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and outline further steps that should be taken before the buzzer sounds.

With 15 months to go, today we are launching the ACCOUNTdown Dialogue Series. Over the coming months, we will take a deeper dive into our pillar issues of accountability through enhanced transparency, evaluation, and learning, and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development in order to publicly assess progress in these areas. The Dialogue Series will offer both an MFAN perspective and a U.S. government perspective on the current state of each of the 6 sub-pillars. We hope that you will follow along with the series and engage with us on social media to offer your own thoughts on where progress is being made or lagging, and what you hope to see this Congress and Administration accomplish.

Be sure to check back later in the week as we post our first piece on transparency from Lori Rowley, MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair and Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center. Lori’s piece will discuss the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 3766 / S. 2184), which was recently unanimously approved by both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the upcoming December deadline for the United States to meet its commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).