Show Me the Money: How Transparency and Evaluation Can Make Aid Better

It’s no secret that foreign assistance is an invaluable part of U.S. foreign policy. Aid is a strong expression of U.S. moral, economic, and national security imperatives, and it helps advance all three. It’s also no secret that foreign assistance resources make up a tiny part of overall U.S. spending. The entire International Affairs Budget is just over 1% of the overall U.S. budget, with resources going to foreign assistance making up an even smaller piece of that pie. How then can we ensure that our limited aid funds are having the most impact? Show me the money! Show me where money is being spent, what it’s being spent on, and what impact that spending has.

Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation that would do just that.  The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3766) by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and in the Senate (S. 2184) by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), would put into law commonsense measures – many of which the current Administration is already doing – that will boost transparency and require rigorous monitoring and evaluation of U.S. foreign assistance. The provisions in this legislation will help ensure that spending decisions are made based on evidence and data, and that programs are corrected or overhauled based on evidence of what works.

Increasing transparency and codifying monitoring and evaluation requirements has benefits for policymakers, taxpayers, and intended beneficiaries in partner countries. The U.S. has already made some progress when it comes to transparency and evaluation. In 2010, was launched as a portal for aid data, which continues to be gradually updated and improved, and in 2011 the U.S. signed on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative and is working to fully meet its commitment under IATI. On evaluation, USAID, MCC, and the State Department have all published formal, agency-wide evaluation policies, and the Defense Department is pursuing evaluation guidelines as well. This progress is commendable, but there is more work to be done.

Enacting the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is a crucial part of making sure that this progress is built upon rather than sidelined – or even reversed – when a new Administration and Congress are sworn in next year. The bipartisan champions on Capitol Hill that are pushing for this legislation should be commended for their hard work to improve the effectiveness of our foreign assistance resources, and their longstanding efforts should be fully realized before the ever-shrinking legislative calendar runs out.

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