Year in Review: Looking Back at The Way Forward

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!

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