MFAN Statement: USAID Offers Evidence of Reform Progress

March 20, 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:

We strongly commend the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for releasing a comprehensive internal evaluation of progress on the USAID Forward reform agenda. The report highlights very positive and promising signs that USAID has begun to transform itself into a more effective, accountable institution. This progress could not have come at a better time; budget pressures demand better results, and the Agency will bear greater responsibility at the leading edge of U.S. foreign policy as our military leverage decreases in places like Afghanistan and the greater Middle East.

Strengthening USAID has always been one of MFAN’s primary objectives. We supported Administrator Rajiv Shah when he launched USAID Forward on the heels of the 2010 release of President Obama’s landmark Policy Directive on Development (PPD). The PPD sought to reshape the U.S. development approach around economic growth, selectivity, innovation, partnership, and evaluation. As the directive noted, a key avenue to reaching these goals involved a “long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. Government’s lead development agency and as the world’s premier development agency.”

The new USAID Forward progress report is rightly built around the key strategic tenets of the PPD:

  • Evaluation: The creation of the new USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning has had a clear impact on the Agency’s ability to measure programs and thus make more strategic decisions. The report notes that since 2011, 186 in-depth program evaluations have been completed and published for the public. USAID’s important decision to create the position of Chief Economist – and bolster economic expertise across the Agency – has only strengthened the credibility of these evaluations.
  • Selectivity: Stronger evaluation has also allowed for important decisions about resource allocation and selectivity. The report notes that the Agency reduced total numbers of program areas by 22 percent and phased out agricultural programs and global health programs in 21 and 17 countries, respectively, where they were no longer needed. We look forward to USAID exercising increased focus in assistance programming in order to capitalize on opportunities where we can achieve real development gains.
  • Country ownership: USAID’s launch of a process to develop Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) – which involve close and cross-sectoral collaboration with recipient countries to set goals and adapt programs – was an enormously important steps towards giving partners and citizens more responsibility within the development process. Twenty CDCS processes were completed in 2012, and the Agency has ambitious goals to increase that number.  Efforts to expand country ownership were strengthened by the Agency’s efforts to direct more resources to local institutions.  The report notes a 50 percent increase in funding to local organizations since 2010, with 14.3 percent of mission funding now being awarded directly to local institutions.
  • Economic Growth and Innovation: The report notes that strengthening the Development Credit Authority (DCA) has allowed the agency to leverage more private capital – $700 million in 2012 alone – to support entrepreneurship and capacity building. As an example, the report notes that six USAID missions are now actively using and supporting mobile applications to catalyze development.
  • Partnership: In addition to strengthening relationships with recipient governments, institutions, and citizens, USAID has developed new partnerships with universities and other organizations in order to build local capacity and improve program outcomes.

There are other bright spots in the report, relating to both building internal human capital and committing to continued measurement and evaluation of reform progress. We believe the report itself is a strong signal by Administrator Shah that the Agency intends to be more transparent.

We hope USAID will push harder for progress in other areas. Administrator Shah has committed to closing seven USAID missions that have outlived their strategic usefulness by 2015. We encourage Administrator Shah to continue to pursue mission consolidation alongside the programmatic realignments outlined in the report, and we look forward to receiving more information on this issue. In addition, we urge USAID and other relevant players in the Obama Administration to more constructively engage with Congress on development issues in order to try to solidify these and other reforms through legislation.

MFAN looks forward to upcoming independent research and analysis from our partners that seeks to measure the true impact of these changes on the ground in developing countries. We also look forward to working with USAID to maintain the momentum of these critical reforms.

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