President Obama recently signed the Foreign Aid Accountability and Transparency Act, a bipartisan bill that will help to increase the accountability of U.S. foreign assistance resources so that they can be tracked, measured, and allocated to have the most impact. As one of our top priorities from our ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign, we’re thrilled to see that this legislation is now the law of the land. We are so appreciative of all the hard work of the bill sponsors, Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), and the MFAN network over the years to get this bill enacted.
So now that we’ve done it, and the celebrations have quieted…where do we go from here? We’ve compiled a wish list of our top priorities for implementation and we want to see all the agencies involved in U.S. foreign assistance move quickly to tackle them.
- Put aid data online. ForeignAssistance.gov was launched in 2010 and currently displays budget, financial, and award data for 10 agencies, which represent approximately 98% of all U.S. foreign assistance. But there is still much to be done to improve the quality and timeliness of this data, the usability and functionality of the website, and the number of agencies represented. The law mandates that ForeignAssistance.gov be updated with “comprehensive, timely, and comparable information on covered United States foreign assistance programs,” and the State Department should swiftly fulfill this requirement. We’d also like to see the U.S. government work to streamline other existing foreign aid data portals in order to reduce redundant reporting and make things easier on users.
- Provide IT tools – like ForeignAssistance.gov – with the resources to succeed. In order for ForeignAssistance.gov to fulfill its mandate of collecting and publishing timely and comprehensive foreign aid, Congress and the Administration must provide funding that is consistent, predictable and adequate. We hope both the legislative and executive branches will build on several years of bipartisan support for this important tool and fully fund ForeignAssistance.gov in Fiscal Year 2017, as well as USAID’s Capital Investment Fund that provides resources for information technology such as the new Development Information Solution (DIS).
- Make monitoring and evaluation guidelines rigorous. The bill calls for the President, within 18 months of enactment, to “set forth guidelines….for the establishment of measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans that can be applied with reasonable consistency to covered United States foreign assistance.” These guidelines should be sure to highlight that evaluations be done in accordance with current best practices and that agencies are utilizing the full suite of M&E tools, including impact and ex-post evaluations. When evaluations are done right, they can have enormous value when it comes to making programming and budgeting decisions, both during and after a program, as we have seen at USAID and the MCC. Evaluations are not just additional reporting requirements meant to collect dust on a shelf, or in the archives of USAID’s Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC). Rather, as the law states, all agencies involved in foreign assistance should be doing them, doing them well, and utilizing them to get the most impact out of our resources.
- Share the data and what you’re learning. To maximize the effectiveness and impact of our aid programs, we have to make sure that data and evaluation findings are being shared not only within the U.S. government, but with U.S. taxpayers, other donors, and, importantly, beneficiaries and stakeholders in partner countries. Timely information sharing can help us to focus our resources on what works, adapt to changing conditions, and avoid wasteful duplication of efforts. As the law mandates, all covered agencies should be publicly reporting out evaluation findings no later than 90 days after completion and updating the ForeignAssistance.gov website with all foreign assistance data covered by the law quarterly (or even more frequently!).
- Prioritize security assistance. Although only a small piece of security assistance – the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program – is covered by the law, the Department of State and Department of Defense should consider the passage of this legislation a strong signal of congressional interest in transparent and accountable foreign assistance – including security programs. Specifically, the Departments should make more data publicly available and extend evaluation requirements to security cooperation programs. We know the Department of Defense is pursuing an evaluation framework, supported by both the House and Senate versions of the 2017 Defense Authorization bill, and we look forward to seeing this policy completed and implemented.