blog logo image

U.S.-based NGOs Oppose Costly Changes to Cargo Preference That Cut U.S. International Food Aid Programs

May 1st, 2015
Bookmark and Share

The organizations listed below are extremely concerned about the potential negative impacts of Section 303 of H.R. 1987, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2015, which would provide the Secretary of Transportation the exclusive authority to unilaterally apply cargo preference rules on programs run by other departments and agencies, and ignore the outcomes of important interagency consultations. We are concerned that Section 303 could have a further detrimental effect on food aid programs and could lead to additional inefficiencies and costs, in terms of wasted resources and greater risk to human lives.

The Department of Homeland Security has previously warned that similar language needlessly increases the risk for programmatic inefficiencies and on-the-ground operational problems.  We are concerned that the unilateral control proposed in Section 303 would expand the Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) authority, allowing MARAD to exercise exclusive authority over how that cargo preference must be applied within critical food aid programs. MARAD’s legally mandated mission is to “strengthen the U.S. maritime transportation system […]” – a mission that reflects neither the importance of cost efficiency nor the impact on critical humanitarian responses.

With natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Nepal and the ongoing crisis in Syria stretching humanitarian funding thin and 805 million people around the world going hungry every day, we must make every food aid dollar count.  We cannot afford to make U.S. food aid more costly or risk diverting more funding toward shipping costs instead of life-saving assistance. Legal authorities provided to the Administration should be ensuring transparent and effective use of taxpayer dollars so that resources are allocated to feeding more vulnerable people, not less.

U.S. food aid saves millions of lives each year.  Therefore, the undersigned organizations remain opposed to the content of Section 303, and we urge the Congress to reject any actions that hamper the reach and effectiveness of food aid programs by increasing transportation costs and eliminating transparency of the process that establishes implementing regulations for cargo preference.

  • American Jewish World Service
  • The Borgen Project
  • Bread for the World
  • CARE USA
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Church World Service
  • Global Poverty Project
  • InterAction
  • Mercy Corps
  • Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
  • ONE
  • Oxfam America
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Save the Children
  • World Food Program USA

logos

MFAN Co-Founder Gayle Smith Nominated as Next USAID Administrator

April 30th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

April 30, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

MFAN applauds today’s announcement by the White House that Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council, has been nominated as the next USAID Administrator. Smith, a Co-Founder of MFAN, has long been a champion of the aid effectiveness agenda while ensuring development is an equal pillar of U.S. foreign policy. In her role at the NSC, Smith has ensured development has a strong voice at the policymaking table, while helping to foster a more robust interagency dialogue and coordination around development efforts. We are pleased to see the White House nominate a strong and experienced leader to take the helm at the U.S. government’s lead development agency.

In her time at the National Security Council, Gayle Smith was instrumental in the creation of the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which focused on reestablishing the U.S. as the global leader on international development by rebuilding USAID’s capacity and modernizing our approach to development. The policy directive also paved the way for USAID’s sweeping reform agenda, USAID Forward. Through this agenda, USAID has made dramatic steps in recent years to strengthen its ability to deliver results for the American people and for people in developing countries around the world. As the new USAID Administrator, we hope to see Smith maintain, if not accelerate, the momentum around implementing and institutionalizing the key reforms of the USAID Forward agenda and to ensure the continued elevation and inclusion of development alongside defense and diplomacy.

A permanent USAID Administrator is essential to sustaining strong U.S. leadership on development programs. As we cautioned in our open letter to the President earlier this month, when the Administrator position was vacant in 2009 for nearly a full year, USAID and its programs suffered. With less than two years remaining in the Obama Administration, we urge the Senate to now swiftly confirm Gayle Smith so that we can continue to advance U.S. development goals and the aid effectiveness agenda.

MFAN Welcomes Second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review

April 29th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

April 29, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. MFAN welcomes the new QDDR and is pleased to see a strong emphasis on enhancing the use of data to promote “greater accountability for strategic planning and programs” and the reaffirmation of USAID as the U.S. government’s lead development agency.

The 2015 QDDR builds on the work of the last review with an aim of prioritizing reforms that will make U.S. development and diplomacy “stronger and more effective for years to come,” said Secretary Kerry at Tuesday’s launch announcement. The review focuses on four key areas: preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism; promoting open, resilient, and democratic societies; advancing inclusive economic growth; and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Strengthening U.S. policies and programs in these areas will make U.S. diplomacy and development more effective at advancing U.S. interests.

What is especially innovative in this second QDDR is the focus on the use of data, diagnostics, and technology, which comprise a cross-cutting theme in each of these four areas. The review states that data “will play a greater role in policy and decision-making, planning, monitoring and evaluation, and program development.” In addition, the review highlights the importance of improving expertise in strategic planning, budgeting, project management, and monitoring and evaluation.

In addition to the clarion call for State and USAID to better use and analysis of data, the report prioritizes advancing transparent and accountable governance.  Both agencies should immediately put these policies into action, and demonstrate their commitment to data and transparency.  An easy first win is to take the steps necessary for them to meet their commitments to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to make U.S. assistance data publically available, comprehensive,  and easily accessible.

It is promising to see this new QDDR emphasize the importance of building internal capacity at the State Department and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation, and the value of harnessing knowledge, utilizing data, and promoting innovation and learning to improve our development and diplomacy. MFAN hopes that this focus on data use will also include greater information sharing with U.S. taxpayers and beneficiaries in our partner countries in particular, so that citizens can hold their own governments to account in leading their own development. As USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt said on Tuesday, USAID is now seeing unprecedented levels of transparency, which is helping to drive greater accountability. We have been encouraged by USAID’s efforts to utilize and share data and hope to see the State Department take similar steps in implementing the second QDDR.

MFAN would also like to recognize the manner in which Tom Perriello, former member of Congress and, for the past year, Special Representative for the QDDR, carried out the review.  We were pleased to see an open, consultative process that reached out to a broad range of stakeholders beyond the U.S. government to seek their ideas and input.

Want to Know What We Got for Our Money? MCC’s Telling Us.

April 24th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair, Diana Ohlbaum.

***

In this space back in February, I suggested a list of ways for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to advance its thought leadership and boost its development effectiveness.  One of those ideas was to conduct “after-action reviews” to provide an honest look at what did (or didn’t) happen during a compact, why (or why not), and how to improve next time.

True to form, less than a month later the MCC responded by publishing its first “compact closed” page, in this case with respect to Mozambique.  The page has a lot to recommend it: a concise summary of the amounts promised and spent; the dates of compact signature, entry into force and completion; a break-down by project area; the total number of beneficiaries; the changes made during the term of the compact; the key compact indicators, targets, and results for each project; the policy conditions; and links to all the key documents, including constraints analysis, evaluations and scorecards.

This is an extremely useful way to look at the big picture of MCC’s results, particularly for Congressional staff who don’t want to have to wade back through years of notifications and justifications to understand how the project changed over time and what they got for their money.  It answers the important question of “What did this compact achieve?”, which is not ordinarily addressed by evaluations, Inspector General investigations, or Government Accountability Office reports.  My only quibble with the page is that it shows the results according to the adjusted targets rather than the initial goals, which gives an unfairly rosy picture of how the compact was implemented.  The Center for Global Development’s Sarah Rose also helpfully suggests that the page include information on policy impact.

I hope, as well, that this effort was not entirely an exercise in packaging information for the public, but also included a very detailed and substantive de-brief from those who worked on the program, with an eye to identifying best practices and lessons learned.  Although this should happen continuously throughout a compact’s duration, compact closure is an important opportunity to ask questions like:  What do you know now that you wish you had known at the start? What were the most burdensome processes and requirements, and how did you manage them?  If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Such a review would be different from an independent evaluation in that it would draw directly from the perceptions and experiences of the staff and local partners who were most closely involved, and not necessarily be designed for public consumption.  This type of learning is essential for an organization whose personnel are hired for their specific country knowledge, subject-matter expertise and language skills, and often leave when the compact is complete rather than assuming a new post within the MCC.

Some of these lessons may be too sensitive to be trotted out in public, or too context-specific to be of broader value.  But some of the feedback – from MCC’s local staff and partners as well as its direct hires — could be summarized in a way that is helpful to other organizations, inside and outside government, working in the same countries or on similar projects.

Although it may not be obvious to the user, the “compact closed” page required an enormous amount of effort from the MCC, with dozens of people and multiple departments involved in developing content, writing code, creating charts, designing new layouts and styles, and extracting data.  It’s the template for similar pages forthcoming on other completed compacts, which will be a useful resource for the entire development community.  From my perspective, this is a noteworthy step forward on transparency as well as a valuable tool for assessing overall results.

Building the Foundation for Self Sufficiency

April 16th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children.

***

This week, thousands of policymakers are meeting in Washington for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Spring Meetings. This year’s Spring Meetings include discussions on a vast range of issues: Recovering from the recent Ebola outbreak, global infrastructure development, and migration and remittances are just some of the topics that will be discussed.

While many focus on international foreign assistance and global finance when they think of the World Bank and IMF, this year there is a strong emphasis on domestic resource mobilization (DRM). DRM has several definitions, but one way to think about it is, “The generation of savings from [developing nations own] domestic resources and their allocation to economically and socially productive investments.” Basically it’s about developing nations’ generating their own resources to fund poverty reduction, economic growth, and other social sectors like health and education.

In fact, foreign assistance (ODA) is dwarfed by the potential resources that can be generated by developing countries themselves through raising funds through their own domestic mechanisms, including taxation.

Given the massive financing demands of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will be  adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September, there is now widespread consensus that ODA is not enough to eliminate poverty, and that these goals will primarily need to be reached through developing nations’ generating their own resources.

In middle-income countries, tax revenues already provide more financing than ODA. For lower-income nations to meet the SDGs, they must improve their collection and spending of domestic revenue.

Many nations have a long way to go on this front.

Half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa collect less than 17 percent of their GDP in taxes while in upper-income countries the percentage is 35 percent.

Research by Save the Children finds that if developing nations could mobilize a minimum of 20 percent of their GDP in tax revenue it would have a major impact on reducing child deaths and contributing to countries’ health and education systems.

This prioritization of DRM in nations’ development strategies also facilitates the strengthening of a country-driven development agenda. As countries generate more of their own resources for development, they are less dependent on external funding. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf states that many nations now seek to, “Reorient the development paradigm away from externally driven initiatives towards domestically inspired and funded initiatives.”

But the potential for nations to mobilize domestic resources is mixed, and particularly for lower developed nations, building the capacity to generate more revenue, requires initial international assistance.

In some cases, ODA and DRM can be complementary. For example, international donors can provide assistance to a developing nation’s tax gathering and administering agencies to build their revenue collection skills.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has had an extensive program of DRM assistance in Georgia. This program focused on reducing corruption and revising its tax and customs codes. As a result of the program Georgia’s tax revenue increased.

Developing nations also need international cooperation and assistance when it comes to combatting illicit financial outflows (IFFs) which also steal potential tax revenue for potential use on poverty reduction programs and projects.  IFFs can occur through tax evasion, tax avoidance, or theft. Globally, IFFs represent as much as 4 percent of lost GDP.

Finally, donors can support advocacy efforts of local civil society to empower citizens to voice their priorities to their governments, and to hold their governments accountable for delivering results.

Happily, these issues will be front-and-center during the Spring meeting with civil society sessions on cracking down on shell companies and several World Bank and IMF sessions focused on fiscal management and tax evasion.

It may be counter-intuitive, but developing nations – both governments and civil society — need initial international assistance to build up their own revenue-generating capacity. With some international help, over the long run developing nations’ will be better able to direct and fund their own development priorities.