blog logo image

MFAN Statement: Poe, Rubio Bills Would Strengthen Foreign Assistance Transparency, Accountability

July 10th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

July 10, 2013 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

MFAN applauds Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) for introducing the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2638; S. 1271). An earlier version of the bill received an encouraging response upon its initial introduction during the 112th Congress, where it sailed through the House with a unanimous vote of 390-0.

The bipartisan legislation would strengthen U.S. development programs that are critical levers of influence in an increasingly complex world by directing U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance to employ more coherent, consistent, and transparent monitoring and evaluation.

This builds on work the Obama Administration has done to embed results-oriented learning practices in U.S. development programming, including new evaluation policies at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State, as well as a new U.S. commitment to participate in the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Specifically, the bills would improve accountability, transparency, and overall effectiveness first by requiring the President to establish uniform interagency guidelines—with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans—across all U.S. foreign assistance programs. In addition, H.R. 2638 / S.1271 would require the President to maintain and expand the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a public website with detailed information regarding U.S. foreign assistance on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis. The site, which is currently populated by only five U.S. government departments or agencies, would be updated quarterly by all agencies that administer foreign assistance, and would allow American taxpayers and partner countries the ability to access and track comprehensive, timely, and comparable data.

The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is an important step toward making lasting, statutory reforms that will ensure U.S. foreign assistance programs are more transparent, accountable, and effective.  We look forward to working with Members of both the House and Senate to enact this legislation during the 113th Congress.

On Development Policy, Congress Looks Functional

July 1st, 2013
Bookmark and Share

See below for a new op-ed from MFAN’s Co-Chairs: Rev. David Beckmann, Jim Kolbe, and George Ingram. This piece originally ran in Roll Call.


Something peculiar has happened around President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa: a famously dysfunctional Congress actually sent a constructive, bipartisan message to the president about the future of engagement with the continent and other developing countries.

Two weeks ago, a group of Republicans and Democrats led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, sent a letter to the Obama administration calling for more aggressive efforts to bolster foreign assistance transparency. In the letter, they argued that transparency provides “the critical information needed to achieve better coordination with other donors, avoid duplication and waste, and provide Congress the means to oversee” U.S. foreign assistance programs. Then last week, an amendment to the House farm bill authored again by Royce and Engel, which would have overhauled the U.S. food aid system to purchase more resources locally and build greater self-sufficiency in poor countries, came within a surprising inch of passing. And, thanks to the leadership of Poe and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., bipartisan, bicameral legislation will soon be introduced to require greater transparency and accountability in foreign assistance.

The Congress is overdue in its focus on foreign assistance reform, which the Obama administration has admirably invested in to build on efforts by the administration of George W. Bush. But a late start is better than no start at all, and progress is there for the taking. Transparency and local self-sufficiency and ownership are the most important elements of reform to advance.

Transparency is the touchstone of effective development. In bilateral and multilateral collaboration, it is a critical component for maintaining trust between partners and a clear focus on results and accountability. Even more importantly, it is the bridge between development programs and the citizens those programs purport to empower. Fortunately, in 2011 the Obama administration took a number of important steps to strengthen transparency by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership. The administration also introduced the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which has finally begun to streamline data and centralize information across all U.S. agencies involved in aid, though more compliance is needed. The U.S. Agency for International Development has played a key role as well. The agency recently completed an unprecedented analysis of U.S. aid through 186 in-depth evaluations to develop the proper metrics for measuring the effects of assistance.

In Africa, Obama can tout these improvements to show that the U.S. is committed to being a better development partner. At the same time, the president would be wise to urge African leaders to make greater commitments of their own to transparency and accountability. This is critically important for a continent that is just beginning to experience democracy and in a world where a lack of accountability is at the root of widespread discontent and upheaval.

Turning transparency into impact requires additional action in other areas, and one of the key pathways to effective development that has emerged is increasing local ownership of the development process, which leads to a greater sense of responsibility on the part of both governments and local civil society to deliver results and, over time, better results.

The Obama administration, through the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development of 2010, has made local ownership a core piece of its development agenda. In 2010, only 9.7 percent of USAID funding directed in missions was awarded to local institutions. Today, that number is 14.3 percent and the goal is to increase local awards to 30 percent of outlays by 2015.

Local ownership is critical, but host countries must also contribute greater resources from their own budgets. A recent report by Oxfam and Development Finance International found that developing countries are on track to miss every domestic spending target of the Millennium Development Goals. The global economic crisis is partly to blame as it led to revenue losses of $140 billion in poor countries. However, in 2012, developing countries will only be spending 0.5 percent of gross domestic product more than in 2008 and much of it is because of expensive borrowing. There are some bright spots, including Ethiopia’s decision earlier this week to allocate $38 million from its treasury to support nutrition programs. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that in 13 countries more people are newly receiving treatment than are newly infected from HIV and AIDS. However, he also cautioned that in order for progress on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to continue, host countries will have to assume more responsibility, as the model shifts “from merely providing aid to co-investing in host countries’ capacity.”

The true opportunity at hand is for Obama to provide concrete evidence to Africans and citizens of other developing countries that the U.S. is invested in their well-being as a partner, not a patron, as he has said in the past. At the same time, he can send a strong signal to multilateral partners and the American public that accountability and results from both donor and recipient countries are at the core of the U.S. development enterprise.

The president should rightly highlight during his trip to Africa a decade’s worth of global progress on development, with millions more being lifted out of the depths of extreme poverty, so much so that the World Bank has set a target of ending extreme poverty by 2030. But he should also focus his remarks on reform, transparency and local ownership, where on the home front, he can make good on those commitments by working with Congress to pass sensible reform legislation, including the bill to-be-introduced by Poe and Rubio.

The Rev. David Beckmann, a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, is the president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona, is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. They are co-chairmen of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.


USGLC Report Finds Consensus on U.S. Development Policy

June 5th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Partisanship in Washington seems to be at an all-time (and ever escalating) high these days. But when it comes to international development, there is a strong consensus across the ideological spectrum that it is something the U.S. must do and do well. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have taken important steps toward reforming U.S. development policy and practice. The establishment of the Millennium Challenge Corporation by President Bush, with strong bipartisan support from Congress, paved the way for other important reforms by the Obama Administration including the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development and the USAID Forward agenda.

In 2011, MFAN released From Policy to Practice—a set of reform principles to help guide U.S. development policy. The principles include modernizing legislation, incorporating local priorities, and strengthening and empowering USAID. In the two years since the release of From Policy to Practice, we have seen the Obama Administration and Congress make strides and the development community rally behind the importance of reform. But there is still more work to be done, and at a time when budgets are shrinking, finding more effective and efficient approaches to solving development challenges is something everyone can get behind.

Today, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition released their second Report on Reports, which analyzes over 30 reports, including MFAN’s From Policy to Practice, from across the political spectrum. Despite analyzing a diverse range of work from groups like the left-leaning Center for American Progress and the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, USGLC finds there’s more of a consensus on U.S. development policy than we might expect. The Report on Reports highlights six key areas of agreement, including ensuring results-driven development, improving coordination, and maintaining sufficient resources, that many groups in the development community are highlighting as priority areas for improving U.S. policy.

The elevation of development alongside diplomacy and defense, the continuing implementation of the USAID Forward agenda, the introduction of legislation like Rep. Gerry Connolly’s (D-VA) Global Partnerships Act and Rep. Ted Poe’s (R-TX) Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, and President Obama’s proposal to reform U.S. food aid are all positive signs that the reform agenda is making headway. However, the Administration and Congress must work together to institutionalize these important reforms so that progress is not lost as political winds shift in Washington.

Click here to see USGLC’s helpful infographic on the road to a “smart power” approach to national security issues.

High Level Panel Releases Report on Post-2015 Development Agenda

June 4th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

In less than two years, the clock on the Millennium Development Goals will run out. Recognizing that on the December 31, 2015 deadline many of the MDGs will not be met, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a 27-person panel to help design a new global development agenda. Following meetings in New York, London, Bali, and Monrovia, the High Level Panel (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda delivered its report to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week. The report, A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, outlines an ambitious universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

The Post-2015 agenda as outlined by the HLP seeks to not only “finish the job the MDGs started,” but to also go beyond the MDGs to reach the poorest and most marginalized populations. The report takes into account how the world has changed since the 2000 Millennium Declaration and how it is likely to continue to change by 2030, noting population growth, the role of private investment, technological advances, and climate change as particularly impactful.

Based on the panel’s meetings and consultations, they are recommending that the agenda be universal and driven by five fundamental shifts, including: leave no one behind; put sustainable development at the core; transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and forge a new global partnership. In addition to these broader principles, the panel put forth a set of 12 measurable goals to give more clarity to what they envision. The goals include:

  • End poverty
  • Empower girls and women to achieve gender equality
  • Provide quality education and lifelong learning
  • Ensure healthy lives
  • Ensure food security and good nutrition
  • Achieve universal access to water and sanitation
  • Secure sustainable energy
  • Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growth
  • Manage natural resource assets sustainably
  • Ensure good governance and effective institutions
  • Ensure stable and peaceful societies
  • Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance

US Representative to the High Level Panel, John Podesta, notes that the report seeks to build on the accomplishments of the MDGs and that “to make these gains permanent, we must address the root causes of poverty and better connect the very poor to the economic, social and political lives of their countries.” The release of the report by the HLP is just the first of many steps in the process of formulating the agenda. The United Nations will begin debating the post-2015 agenda at the General Assembly in September.

So what does the HLP report mean from a reform perspective?  It is too early to tell how the report will translate into a new round of MDGs, but it isn’t too early to begin thinking about how the U.S. approach to global development can better align with global goals.  In his 2013 State of the Union address, the President pledged that America would work with our allies around the world to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades.  Achieving this lofty—and vital—goal will require agreement not only on a new round of MDGs, but also a much more coordinated and collaborative approach to development among nations rich and poor around the world, an approach that recognizes the value that each stakeholder adds to the effort and uses resources to maximum effect and with maximum accountability.  We at MFAN look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to ensure that U.S. policy supports this aligned and collaborative approach.

Foreign Assistance Dashboard Adds Treasury and Defense Data

May 28th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Last week, the Departments of Treasury and Defense added data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. See below for a guest post from MFAN Principal Sarah Jane Staats, coauthored by Will McKitterick, that explains what information has been added and what this means in terms of transparency. This post originally appeared on the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistance blog.


A Good Day to Bury Good News? US Foreign Assistance Dashboard Adds Defense and Treasury Data

The US Foreign Assistance Dashboard has a habit of quietly releasing good news just before Washingtonians leave for long holiday weekends. It added Millennium Challenge Corporation data two days before Thanksgiving in 2011. State and USAID announced aid data standards and a reporting schedule the Thursday before the 2012 Christmas holiday. And lest you miss it before skipping town for this Memorial Day weekend holiday, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard has new data from the departments of Defense and Treasury.

Five US agencies that have a role in US foreign aid now have some—but not all—data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. These five agencies accounted for roughly eighty-six percent of aid spending in  2011. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard expects twenty-two separate US federal agencies and departments to report data.


Source:  U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook). FY 2011 economic assistance obligations. *Other includes: Peace Corps, Department of Interior, Department of Labor, United States Trade Development Agency, United States African Development Foundation, Inter-America Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

It’s great to see Defense and Treasury data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, including Treasury’s planned technical assistance and multilateral development and trust fund contributions over a nine year period plus obligated and spent data from FY2006-FY2012. Defense data is limited to FY2011 and FY2012, but includes planned, spent and obligated numbers. The State Department, by contrast, has posted planning data but no obligated or spent data. Treasury also joins MCC in providing forward-looking FY2014 budget numbers—an important feature if the Foreign Assistance Dashboard aims to inform current spending decisions.

We’ll dig into the data in more detail over the coming days. There is still a long way to go before the Foreign Assistance Dashboard has the complete picture of where and how the United States invests its aid dollars, but new Treasury and Defense data are good steps in the right direction. I’ll be on the lookout for more good news to sneak out just before the next holiday. July 3rd,  anyone?