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MCC: Moving Forward by Looking Back — Lessons Learned on Transparency

February 4th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chairs, Diana Ohlbaum and Lori Rowley. Ohlbaum is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Rowley is the Director for Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center.


This week one of the federal government’s youngest agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), will once again demonstrate its leadership and forward thinking on accountability and transparency.  After ten years of experience, and with a new Chief Executive Officer at its helm, the MCC is launching a series of events examining what it has learned and what it has accomplished.   This period of reflection will help MCC seize the opportunity to consolidate its gains and stake out the vanguard in data-driven, locally-owned and self-sustaining development.

The test of true leadership, however, is in the extent to which others are motivated to follow.  To inform and inspire the rest of the United States Government, as well as other donors and development practitioners, the MCC this week will release a paper on transparency as part of its “Principles into Practice” series. The new paper details not only the reasons behind making transparency a core principle of MCC operations – such as providing checks against corruption, building public confidence, increasing coordination, and supporting informed participation – but also some of the limits and risks to full disclosure.  For instance, there may be personally identifiable information contained in data sets, national security information contained in meeting notes, or procurement-sensitive information in planning documents.  By demonstrating how it balances these risks, and by describing its systems to ensure that data is reviewed and released in a timely, responsive and accessible manner, the MCC performs a valuable service for governments and civil society alike.

On Friday, February 6, at 10:00 am, MFAN and the Brookings Institution will co-host an event highlighting the MCC’s efforts to make its operations more transparent and accountable.  Following a presentation by Beth Tritter, the MCC’s new Vice President for Policy and Evaluation, representatives of the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs will discuss the challenges they faced, lessons they learned, and best practices they identified for sharing data and opening their processes.  Among the MCC’s key findings are the need for committed leadership and the importance of generating demand for data.  We encourage MCC’s new CEO, Dana Hyde, to carry forward the agency’s high standards in being transparent.  And since accountability requires not only transparency and use of data to support improved outcomes but also feedback, participating in this event and putting MCC’s data and information to the test is one way that we can all help the MCC put its principles into practice.

MFAN Statement: President Obama’s FY16 Budget Shows Continued Support for Foreign Assistance Reform

February 4th, 2015
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February 4, 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 welcomes the Obama Administration’s FY2016 budget request, which includes several important reform elements and increased resources for initiatives that will improve aid effectiveness.  The $54.8 billion request, which allocates $47.8 billion for base funding and $7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), is a 7.7% increase from current spending, not including supplemental spending for the Ebola crisis. The base funding request is $6.1 billion higher than current spending levels, a 14.7% increase, as funds are shifted from the OCO fund back to the base budget.

In addition to the strong base funding request, MFAN is pleased to see the inclusion of key provisions that would help advance reform and overall effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid in the request.

  • MCC Funding Gets a Boost: The MCC request comes in at $1.25 billion, a 39% increase over FY15. The MCC’s innovative approach to development prioritizes transparency and country ownership, which are key pieces of MFAN’s policy agenda, to reduce poverty and promote economic growth.
  • Increase in USAID Operating Expenses: Operating Expenses are essential for providing adequate personnel and training to implement and monitor programs and institutionalize USAID Forward reforms. In this request, OE receives a 17% boost, which is expected to help offset projected decreases in other sources of funding to maintain current operations.
  • Authorization for a USAID Working Capital Fund: The establishment of a USAID WCF would help increase procurement flexibility, in line with the USAID Forward agenda.
  • Additional flexibility for International Food Aid: While the overall Food for Peace Title II request is down from FY15, the request includes the authority to use up to 25% (or $350 million) of Title II resources for cash-based food assistance for emergencies. With this increased flexibility, USAID can reach approximately 2 million more emergency beneficiaries a year.
  • More Funding for Foreign Assistance Program Evaluation in State’s F Bureau: Within the Economic Support Fund (ESF), State has requested $2.4 million for Foreign Assistance Program Evaluation in the F Bureau, an increase of $900,000 from FY14 spending. This increase in funding can help ensure better training for staff and better quality evaluations to help inform program decision-making.
  • PEPFAR Impact Fund: The request includes $300 million to be set aside for a new PEPFAR Impact Fund, aimed to support more targeted efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. The fund would be allocated to countries with “the greatest need and ability to realign resources based on evidence to reach epidemic control, increase their own share of HIV budgets, and take greater ownership of data collection and expenditure analysis.”

While MFAN believes that the FY16 international affairs budget request demonstrates a continued commitment to aid effectiveness, we were concerned to see a decrease in the funding request for the Foreign Assistance Dashboard from FY14 levels. Given the U.S. commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the amount of work left to meet that commitment by the end of this year, a decrease in funding for the Dashboard could hurt our efforts for greater aid transparency. We will be watching closely for these reform elements as the request moves through Congress.

State of the Union 2015: What “Smart Development” Means for Reform as the Clock Winds Down

January 22nd, 2015
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.


On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his next-to-last State of the Union address in which he laid out an ambitious, and largely domestic, agenda for his last two years of office. While the foreign policy pieces of the address were more concerned with defense (mostly) and diplomacy (occasionally), we were pleased to hear the President highlight the importance of development and ending extreme poverty.

In discussing the Ebola crisis, which began spreading through West Africa this time last year, President Obama noted that we need to be investing “in smart development” and building “a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics.” Countries hardest hit by Ebola are those lacking the domestic health systems to effectively deal with the disease — a problem that could be mitigated by focusing more resources on strengthening local systems and broadening health services.

President Obama also made the case for acting on climate change or we risk increasing “massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.” This need to address climate change and integrate climate resilience into our development work has been echoed by the discussions around the Post-2015 agenda and is likely to be a key theme in the forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

We thank President Obama for pointing to the need for smarter, more effective development, and recognize that this administration has implemented a number of important reforms. Efforts like USAID Forward and the Local Solutions initiative are helping to ensure that we are looking for locally led solutions to development problems. The State Department and USAID have established and implemented evaluation policies to improve agency M&E practices. USAID’s reconstituted policy shop encourages learning. PEPFAR and the MCC have prioritized open data and transparency to drive better development programs.

We call on the administration to institutionalize these reforms so that their benefits are sustained. And we ask that commitments made with regard to transparency and country ownership are met. Above all, we call on the President to quickly appoint a capable development leader as USAID administrator in order to sustain and further these gains before he leaves office.

This Administration has made strides to change the narrative on U.S. foreign assistance, but as President Obama said last night, “the job is not yet done.” We look forward to working with the Administration over these final two years to institutionalize this important progress.

Transforming U.S. Foreign Aid through Country Ownership

January 15th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.


Throughout my life, and particularly in my work with Save the Children, I have seen examples of where aid has made a powerful difference in helping to transform people’s lives; and I’ve seen it fail.

When it works, whether it comes in the form of health, nutrition, or humanitarian projects that prevent thousands of deaths or in education that provides children the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, aid can play a crucial role in meeting the needs of billions of children and families around the globe and literally changing the future.

And when it fails, its impacts range from insignificant to actually leaving communities worse off in a range of ways.

Because of this, an important part of our advocacy at Save the Children is directed at improving the way aid is delivered to maximize its positive impact.  Research has shown time and time again that foreign assistance is more effective and sustainable when those local governments and communities on the receiving end have a strong voice in deciding and developing the relevant projects, using their vast local knowledge and skills.   When developing countries are in the driver’s seat and leading the design, implementation, and management of development activities we are closer to achieving country ownership.

Country ownership has become an increasingly important aspect of U.S. development projects.  In 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched USAID Forward, a set of policy reforms, to strengthen the agency and restructure its approach to aid.  The Local Solutions initiative is a key aspect of USAID Forward that focuses on bolstering local capacity, promoting country ownership, and increasing sustainability of program results.  The initiative has the potential to transform the way aid is administered, implemented, and ultimately the effects it has on millions of lives in developing countries.

However, the initiative currently uses a single indicator to track progress – percentage of USAID Mission funds provided directly to local institutions.  This single measure is insufficient to evaluate such a multi-faceted effort.

Save the Children has recently released a report entitled, Tracking USAID’s Efforts on the Local Solutions Initiative: A Review of Select Procurements in Six Countries.  For this research, Save the Children looked at the procurement documents that so often shape how policies at the headquarters level translate into programs in the field.  Based on the content of these procurements, our researchers scored USAID’s efforts to promote county ownership across the six countries.  They found that in all six countries reviewed, USAID integrates country ownership principles satisfactorily.  Moreover, USAID collects a wealth of data through its programs that could be analyzed to assess its multi-faceted effort more comprehensively and used more strategically to inform its operations – particularly its engagement with local institutions.

The report recommends three action for USAID: 1) conduct a more comprehensive review of efforts across all countries implementing the Local Solutions initiative to report on progress and identify and scale up promising practices; 2) adopt additional standardized indicators to complement the current single indicator and expand the agency’s ability to track more broadly its efforts to promote country ownership; and 3) pay more attention to the local institutions working on agency-funded activities as sub-grantees or sub-contractors.

Effective tools to evaluate country ownership can impact the way USAID does development and could shift the entire sector towards practices that advance countries’ local priorities and ownership over decisions about their own development.  Similarly, adopting a consistent set of indicators would ensure that all USAID Missions around the world “speak the same language” and learn from each other.

The procurements reviewed show that USAID is prompting movement in the right direction with the Local Solutions initiative.  In Uganda, USAID is emphasizing the need for its projects to be measured against the goals of the Government of Uganda, not just its own goals.  Furthermore, USAID is recommending that monitoring and evaluation of project activities be carried out with participation from local organizations.

Country ownership – and USAID’s Local Solutions initiative – can transform the way aid is delivered while upholding human dignity and supporting people to become agents of their own development.  Save the Children’s report attempts to fill crucial information gaps in the implementation of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative and draw the aid community’s attention to the urgent need for a comprehensive progress update as the initiative enters its fifth year of implementation.

Year in Review: Looking Back at The Way Forward

December 30th, 2014
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As 2014 comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on what has happened and what we’ve accomplished throughout the year to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective.

We kicked off the year under the new leadership of Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, along with our longtime co-chair George Ingram, and set out to refocus our agenda. In April, with broad support from the community, we released a refreshed policy agenda, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, centered on the two pillar issues of accountability through transparency, evaluation and learning; and country ownership of the priorities, resources, and implementation of development.

We saw notable progress for aid reform this past calendar year. In February, the 2014 Farm Bill was reauthorized with positive reforms that ensure greater flexibility and effectiveness of our international food aid programs. PEPFAR announced a three-year agreement with the MCC to promote greater host-country responsibility and ownership in the U.S. global AIDS program in April. The President’s Global Development Council, a group of experts from a variety of sectors that advises the President and other senior officials on global development policy and practice, released its first report. Beyond Business as Usual calls for a focus on the private sector, innovation, transparency and evidence, climate smart food security, and global leadership, coinciding with many of the points from MFAN’s policy paper.

The Government Accountability Office published a report assessing USAID’s Local Solutions initiative, and specifically its principal indicator of the percentage of funds obligated to local organizations in partner countries. The report finds that USAID has increased funding to local organizations, but needs to be doing more to track and measure progress, an issue MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group is examining as well. The second part of GAO’s report, requested by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected by the spring of 2015. The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, established at the Fourth High Level Forum in Busan in 2011, met in April in Mexico City to evaluate donors’ progress on their commitments to the Global Partnership Principles, including the commitment that donors publish all aid data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard by 2015. While the U.S. continues to make progress on this front, the record is mixed across agencies and more needs to be done to meet the deadline a mere twelve months away.

This summer, MFAN convened the community for a public event to reflect on why accountability and country ownership are central to our agenda and how they are being put into practice. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard grew, adding data from the Department of Agriculture and the State Department. Legislation introduced in the House last year by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Karen Bass (D-CA), the Food Aid Reform Act, and subsequently this past June by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the Food for Peace Reform Act, would modernize U.S. food aid programs and remove outdated red tape. We will continue to push for similar legislation to be introduced and passed in the new Congress. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in Washington DC in August, brought U.S. and African government and civil society leaders together to discuss important issues such as energy and electricity, climate change, and strengthening country ownership. MFAN convened two side events with African civil society leaders to discuss our pillar issues of accountability and country ownership. In working toward its commitment to IATI, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard adopted the IATI standard with a tailored U.S. extension in August, consistent with other donors’ practices.

Into the fall, USAID held its second Frontiers in Development conference focused on ending extreme poverty, tackling questions related to inequality, fragility and instability, climate change, and global health. MFAN’s Accountability Working Group released a one-pager, The Role of Transparency, making the case for why high quality, timely information is key to ensuring our aid has maximum positive impact. In October, Publish What You Fund released its 2014 Aid Transparency Index. This year, the MCC celebrated its 10th Anniversary by maintaining its place among the top three global donors, while PEPFAR made substantial progress by moving up 20 spots in its ranking from 2013. Also, following the fall midterm elections took place, 2015 will usher in a Republican-controlled House and Senate. This positions longstanding aid-effectiveness champions Senator Corker and Congressman Royce to make even more headway as chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively.

As we look toward the kickoff of a new session of Congress and the last two years of the Obama Administration, we will continue to work with the Hill and the Administration to push forward on reform. In early 2015, we will say goodbye to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, who recently announced his mid-February departure. Administrator Shah has been an important ally for reform and has worked hard to strengthen the agency in both its intellectual and operational capacity and effectiveness. We look forward to spending time on the Hill working with and educating new members on the critical relationship between accountability and country ownership. We hope to see new legislation introduced on transparency and evaluation and to continue to push for other important reform-minded bills such as the Food for Peace Reform Act.

2015 will have its share of big moments for development, and we hope in turn for aid reform. In particular, we will be watching closely for the release of a new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the International Conference on Financing for Development, the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals and the introduction of the Post-2015 agenda, and the deadline for the U.S. to meet its commitment to IATI.

We wish everyone a restful and happy New Year and look forward to hitting the ground running in 2015!