blog logo image

Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability: It’s Something We Can All Agree On

July 15th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Melissa Kaplan, advocacy manager for aid reform at InterAction, wrote about the recently introduced Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act in an op-ed in CQ. See an excerpt of the piece below.

***

“The world we live in today is more tightly interconnected than it has ever been. It’s not a question of whether foreign assistance is necessary, but rather how we can best utilize this important tool to reduce extreme poverty as a prominent signal of America’s moral leadership. President Barack Obama recently completed a high-profile trip to Africa — a continent that has suffered greatly from war, poverty and disease but also a place where U.S. foreign assistance has had a real and positive impact through programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (an HIV and AIDs initiative that has provided anti-retroviral treatment, care and other support to millions around the world). At less than 1 percent of the federal budget, foreign assistance represents a tiny sliver of U.S. spending, but the dollars invested in the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development can do an enormous amount of good even on a relative shoestring.”

“Many problems facing Congress today seem intractable, and our legislative branch is often stymied by partisan rancor that prevents the implementation of much-needed solutions to pressing problems. The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act represents a chance to break through this logjam and enact common-sense legislation that will enable our foreign assistance programs to work better. It’s no wonder that this legislation has drawn such strong bipartisan support among those who believe in the good foreign assistance can do, and want to see that it’s carried out as effectively as possible. Despite its unanimous approval by the House of Representatives, time ran out last Congress before the Senate had a chance to vote on FATA. Now that it has been reintroduced, with additional, stronger language on monitoring and evaluation, I am confident that it can and will pass in both chambers this year.”

NGO Community Shows Broad Support for Transparency & Accountability Bill

July 12th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

This week, a bicameral, bipartisan piece of legislation was introduced to strengthen transparency and evaluation of U.S. foreign assistance. The bill, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2638; S. 1271), was introduced by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). An earlier version of the legislation was introduced last year and passed the House with a unanimous vote of 390-0. The legislation establishes uniform interagency guidelines – with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans and also requires the President to maintain and expand the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

MFAN is pleased to see that the legislation has been reintroduced with bipartisan backing in both the House and Senate as well as strong support from the NGO community. Brookings and Oxfam put out blog posts applauding the bill’s introduction, and in addition to MFAN’s statement, below you will find additional statements of support from MFAN partners.

  • “We thank Reps. Poe and Connolly and Sens. Rubio and Cardin for introducing this important bipartisan legislation that will enact common-sense reforms to improve U.S. foreign assistance programs. We appreciate their hard work and dedication to reforming and improving foreign assistance through greater transparency and accountability measures. Ultimately, these reforms will empower us to better serve the world’s poor, as well as American taxpayers.” – Samuel A. Worthington, President & CEO, InterAction
  •  “It took great bipartisan effort to move this bill forward and we hope it sets a constructive precedent for further reform. When people in developing countries know what the US is doing in their communities, they can take action themselves to amplify the results. And when the US government has better information and tools for measuring the impact of our programs, we can help make sure they are delivering better results for America and our partners.” – Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness, Oxfam America
  •  “This bill is an important step toward increasing the transparency, accountability and impact of foreign aid. With upwards from 22 agencies currently implementing U.S. foreign assistance, the bill aims to streamline and clarify how programs across federal agencies deliver aid.” – Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement and Policy, Mercy Corps
  •  “This legislation demonstrates a real desire in Congress to make our foreign assistance programs, which are saving millions of lives around the world, even better by making them more effective, efficient and transparent. We look forward to working with Members of both chambers to enact this legislation during the 113th Congress.” – Tom Hart, U.S. Executive Director, ONE
  •  “The USGLC commends Congressmen Poe and Connolly and Senators Rubio and Cardin for their leadership on this bipartisan legislation to further enhance the accountability and effectiveness of foreign assistance programs.  In addition to ensuring ample funding and resources for development and diplomacy, it’s vital that we ensure the highest standards for transparency and results.” – Liz Schrayer, Executive Director, USGLC

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.