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Expectations for the President’s 2015 Budget

February 26th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow in global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair. Veillette writes about what she expects to see in President Obama’s forthcoming 2015 budget request. The original post can be found on The Lugar Center’s blog.

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The President’s 2015 budget is scheduled for release on March 4.  This marks another year that its release has been delayed despite provisions in the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 that designates the first Monday in February for its submission to Congress.  This year’s delay largely reflects late congressional action in completing the 2014 budget and appropriations processes. Of course, late budget releases inevitably contribute to the end of the fiscal year deadline (September 30) also being ignored.

The President has signaled that he wants to move past our current period of austerity that has defined White House and Congressional budgets for a number of years. What will this mean for foreign assistance and development issues? Will foreign aid still comprise just 1% of the total budget? Will it include dedicated funding for the President’s new Power Africa initiative? Where do administration initiatives such as Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and other new ventures fit? My crystal ball is notoriously cloudy, but here’s where I think some of this will go.

Feed the Future, the administration’s food security initiative that targets 19 countries with activities that stimulate agriculture and related sectors, will likely stay level funded at a little over $1 billion, give or take a couple hundred million for nutrition/health programs or climate change activities. Since these issues are so intertwined, some funding can be counted toward multiple objectives.

Speaking of which, Secretary Kerry’s interest in climate change may well be reflected in the budget with increased funding. Last year’s request for the Global Climate Change Initiative was a slight cut from previous years. Figuring out how much to spend in 2014 will be made more difficult by the fact that the two accounts (Development Assistance and Economic Support Fund) used to fund it took a hit in the omnibus spending bill. Given the administration’s interest in global agriculture, there could be much more done to help small holders adapt to changing growing conditions.

Momentum around food aid reform has been building for at least a couple of years. The administration’s far-reaching reform proposal in last year’s budget was watered down just enough to give hope to reformers while still providing comfort to status quo supporters. I expect that the original 2014 proposal will again find its way into the upcoming budget. I also expect little progress in calendar year 2014 given that the Farm Bill, in which the compromise was included, was signed into law just this month.

It was announced in January that the new Global HIV/AIDS Coordinator will be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that the largest portion of the Global Health Initiative will be run by a non-development agency. The CDC certainly knows its stuff, but using health as an economic growth springboard isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, global health programs remain popular on the Hill and within the administration. The administration might actually propose a slight cut in health programs knowing that Congress will add the money back in.

Power Africa is the latest administration initiative with the goal of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The White House’s intent is to fund Power Africa at $7 billion over five years through a number of U.S. agencies (USAID, OPIC, Ex-Im Bank, MCC, and African Development Bank) and private companies. I would expect a $1 billion request as the first down payment.

Funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has been maintained well below $1 billion for the last several years despite bipartisan support. With six country compacts in the pipeline, three of which are Power Africa countries, I would expect that the 2015 request will top the $1 billion mark.

Selectivity and focus became catchwords during austerity. Some of us even wrote tomes on how to get more value for our aid dollars. Even if austerity is a thing of the past, and I don’t believe it is or should be, making our aid dollars go further by paying greater attention to efficiencies and effectiveness is a good thing. Having said that, I don’t expect much selectivity and focus in the form of transitioning middle income countries off aid, closing and paring back U.S. aid missions, or getting out of sectors in which we have little comparative advantage.

Many of the administration’s initiatives are quite ambitious but none will achieve their objectives if U.S. agencies are not equipped to deliver results.  USAID Forward, a rebuilding framework to strengthen USAID, find efficiencies and reward innovation, will likely see a modest increase above FY2014 levels. Keep in mind that Congress cut these programs by 10.9% from the 2013 sequestration level so I’m not going out on a limb with this one.  The requested 2015 level will likely allow for a continuation of initiatives but not a robust expansion. The critical parts of USAID Forward, in my opinion, are the rebuilding of in-house expertise, the evaluation of the agency’s work, and learning to work with local aid groups and civil society in what USAID calls Local Solutions. (For analysis on the use of local systems to implement USAID programs, see this Center for American Progress report.)

There are many more accounts and programs that I haven’t the space to cover. We at TLC will be doing some deeper dives come March 4. Stay tuned.

 

MFAN Statement: 2014 Farm Bill Clears Congress with Key Reforms to International Food Aid, Heads to President Obama for Signature

February 5th, 2014
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February 5, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN applauds Congress for including key reforms to U.S. international food assistance in the 2014 Farm Bill, which was approved by Congress following a 68-32 vote in the Senate yesterday and a 251-166 vote in the House last week. These reforms are an important incremental step in ensuring greater flexibility and efficiency of our international food aid programs. The legislation will now go to President Obama for his signature. We commend Congress, and in particular the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees –  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), respectively – for including common-sense reform provisions to food aid in the five-year authorization bill.

These reforms include: the authorization of additional funds for Local and Regional Procurement, which will save time and money as well as support local farmers and food markets to better and more sustainably serve their own people; an increase in the share of funds that can be used for non-commodity expenses, allowing for a decrease in the need to monetize commodities; and greater transparency by requiring USAID to report on implementation costs of food assistance, including the cost recovery rate for monetized food aid.

U.S international food assistance programs are critical to helping hungry people around the world, but the current approach is outdated. The reforms included in this legislation will mean reaching more people in need more quickly and putting U.S. taxpayer dollars to better use.

2013 SOTU’s Vision For Global Poverty & Progress: How Far Have We Come?

January 31st, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, senior fellow at Brookings and MFAN co-chair. Ingram writes about celebrating the progress made to achieve the ambitious development goals President Obama outlined in his 2013 State of the Union address and recognizing there is still work to be done. The original post can be found on Brookings’ Up Front blog.

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For those of us who care about poverty and progress in developing countries, missing from President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was any serious discussion of development.  It therefore is useful to recall the strong vision on development he presented in the State of the Union address a year ago.  In a single, but powerful paragraph, he stated:

“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all—not only because it creates new markets, more stable order in certain regions of the world, but also because it’s the right thing to do.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve; and helping communities tofeed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.”

The italics are mine—to demonstrate that this short paragraph contains a commitment to 9 key components that together comprise an ambitious development agenda, headlined by the “eradication of extreme poverty,” but also noting the critical roles of empowering women, improving education and ending preventable child deaths.

Despite only a slight nod to development this year, the assumption is that this paragraph remains the Obama administration’s operative vision to which the administration can expect to be held accountable and against which global progress can be measured. A cursory assessment on each of those 9 key components would suggest encouraging progress:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty. The past decade has witnessed unexpected progress in reducing world poverty. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for cutting poverty in half by 2015, a target that has been met early. The portion of people living on less than $1.25/day fell from 47 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2010. By several calculations and with a continuation of current trends, extreme poverty could decline to 3 percent by 2030.  The administration, specifically USAID, has been struggling to translate its commitment to eradicate extreme poverty into a coherent strategy—not such an easy task given the complex nature of development and conflicting U.S. interests—but the administration’s policies and initiatives do translate into tackling poverty through direct means and through promoting economic growth and prosperity in developing countries.  It is noteworthy that USAID today issued a refreshed mission statement that puts poverty alleviation in the center: “We partner to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.”
  • Connecting more people to the global economy. In December, the ill-fated Doha Round finally produced the Bali Package that brings results which, while modest, are valuable in expanding trade access for developing countries. The principal near-term development trade agenda rests in the hands of Congress: whether the Senate will overcome a myopic single-senator hold to secure renewal of the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) that has already expired, and whether Congress will renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act before its expiration in 2015.
  • Empowering women. The administration’s record on empowering women is considerable and simply needs to stay on a steady course, from USAID’s and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) policies and programs that advance gender inclusiveness, and the State Department and USAID’s efforts to tackle trafficking and violence against women.
  • Giving the young and bright to new opportunities to serve.  The FY2014 appropriations bill provides a modest increase in funding for the Peace Corps, and it is reported that the White House will soon significantly scale up the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) for both African and American youth.
  • Feed. The U.S. bilaterally, and in collaboration with other countries, is making a significant investment in the ability of the world to feed its growing population. Food security is being advanced by Feed the Future, through which the U.S. made a $3.5 billion pledge as part of an $18.5 billion global commitment to address hunger, and the more recent New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a public/private global effort announced at the 2012 G8 Summit to lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2022.
  • Power.  Power, which was mentioned last night, was tackled in 2013 with the new initiative Power Africa, a unique public/private program that links improvement in government policies and regulations with packaging the finance needed to “power” proposed energy investment projects.  The U.S. government has committed to providing $7 billion of finance that will generate $14 billion from financial partners.
  • Educate. Despite several decades of considerable progress in bringing education to the world’s children, some 57 million children remain out of school.  USAID and other donors have moved from just focusing on getting kids through the school door to making sure there is a learning experience inside the classroom. Thanks to continued support for education in Congress, funding is bumped up slightly for FY2014.
  • Preventable childhood deaths. The story is encouraging.  The global under-5 mortality rate has been cut nearly in half, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 in 2012, or from 12.6 million to 6.6 million children a year. Encouragingly, the rate in reduction has sped up from 1.2 percent during 1990-1995 to 3.9 percent for 2005-2012. This increased pace in reducing preventable child mortality suggests that concerted effort could produce even more progress.
  • AIDS-free generation. Leaders are lining up behind the concept of an AIDS-free generation. The United States, through PEPFAR, has been leading the charge to stem this scourge.  As of September 30, 2013, 6.7 million individuals are receiving life-saving antiretroviral treatment, a fourfold increase from 1.7 million in 2008. In FY2013, 240,000 babies, who otherwise would have been infected, were born HIV/AIDS free. The world is rid of small pox; we are three countries short of defeating polio; the concept of an AIDS-free generation may sound fanciful today, but the trends and treatments are with us and the goal could be achieved with expanded political will and behavioral change.

At a time when we would wish we were closer to reaching the MDGs, and our optimism is burdened by continued poverty and the accompanying hunger, ill-health and strife, it is important to celebrate the progress that has been made and the good efforts that are being made by the U.S. government, private U.S. organizations and individuals, and their counterparts around the world.

It also is important to note that there remain other significant parts to the development agenda and commitments to be fulfilled—making our aid process more accountable through better evaluation, transparency, and learning; moving from good policy to actual implementation of local ownership, starting with listening to the needs and solutions of local institutions and individuals; effectively promoting open, democratic political institutions and civil society; and leveraging the talents and experiences outside of government, including the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and academia.

We must both commend the progress that has been made and push harder on the ambitious agenda that remains to reduce poverty and bring economic opportunities to those left out.

 

MFAN Statement: New Farm Bill Includes Key Reforms to International Food Assistance

January 28th, 2014
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January 28, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

With the release of the 2014 Farm Bill, MFAN applauds Congress for including key reforms to U.S. international food assistance that would allow for greater flexibility and efficiency of our food aid programs . We commend the Farm Bill conferees, particularly the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees –  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), respectively – for their bipartisan efforts in pushing for these common-sense reform provisions.

U.S. international food assistance programs are critical to helping hungry people in times of crisis as well as to securing long-term food security for the world’s most vulnerable. The reforms included in the Farm Bill will help make these programs more efficient and effective so that U.S. assistance can reach more hungry people around the world.

MFAN is supportive of the provisions included in the Farm Bill to improve international food aid, including:

  • The authorization of $80 million for Local and Regional Procurement (LRP), which will help save time and money and support local agriculture;
  • An increase in the share of Title II (Food for Peace) funds that can be used to cover non-commodity expenses of food aid programs, allowing for a decrease in the need to monetize commodities and an increase in flexibility;
  • Promoting transparency by requiring USAID to report on the costs involved in implementing food assistance programs, such as the cost recovery rate for monetized food aid.

We urge swift passage in both the House and Senate of the international food aid reform provisions included in the 2014 Farm Bill. Enacting these reforms will mean reaching hungry people faster and making U.S. taxpayer dollars more accountable.

Final Paper Reviewing U.S. Pledge to GPE Examines U.S. Support to Local Institutions

January 24th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager at RESULTS, about their recent paper analyzing progress made by the U.S. to the Global Partnership for Education. This piece originally appeared on the RESULTS blog.

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In November 2011, the United States made a series of commitments in its pledge to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the world’s only multilateral partnership exclusively devoted to ensuring a quality education for all children, everywhere. Part of this pledge was a $20 million commitment to the GPE Fund (see “Discussion Paper 1 of 3: The U.S. Commitment to the GPE Fund”); another part reaffirmed goals of the USAID Education Strategy (see “Discussion Paper 2 of 3: The USAID Education Strategy”). A further component of the U.S. pledge to GPE concerned aid effectiveness measures of USAID Forward, the agency-wide reform agenda, particularly around closer collaboration with local actors.

With input from visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the third and final installment of Towards Collaborative Support to Global Education: A Review of the U.S. Pledge to the Global Partnership for Education takes an in-depth look at USAID Forward, with a particular focus on progress USAID has made towards meeting its goal to provide more direct investment in partner country governments and local organizations and businesses.

Throughout RESULTS’ visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the majority of development actors consulted were not aware of USAID’s intentions to increase direct partnerships with local institutions and host country governments, though they responded positively upon learning about the initiative.

Only one of the 12 basic education projects surveyed by RESULTS has a local entity as the prime implementing partner, and only one out of every 25 dollars USAID invested in education in Africa in 2012 went to a local institution.

If it is to achieve the sustainable development outcomes underlying USAID Forward’s local investment objectives, USAID must:

  • Foster partners, not just implementers, by soliciting participation from host country governments and local organizations to establish priorities and develop them as institutions in their own right.
  • Build host country government capacity where assessments reveal national systems too weak for direct partnership.
  • Coach local NGO communities, by offering organizational feedback and routine guidance on USAID procedures to local communities of practice.

Strengthen government systems through increased partnership with the Global Partnership for Education, whose systems approach to education development builds the very environment