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Year in Review: A Look Back at Aid Reform in 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, the Obama Administration enters its final days, and Congress prepares for a new session, we are taking some time to reflect on all that we as a network have accomplished this year to move the needle on U.S. aid reform. Thanks to the continued energy and support of the MFAN community, we have much to celebrate this year.

MFAN’s Work on Accountability & Country Ownership Progresses

To kick off 2016, MFAN and Plan USA hosted Ambassador Deborah Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, for a public event on PEPFAR’s approach to sustainability and country transitions. MFAN Executive Committee member and Plan’s President and CEO Tessie San Martin participated on the panel and weighed in on PEPFAR’s sustainability agenda following the event.

In February, InterAction made the exciting announcement that they would begin publishing data from their NGO Aid Map to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). This move means that data from more than 100 InterAction members is now being published in a common format, making more aid data publicly available and usable.

Throughout this year, MFAN continued its ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign which is aimed at tracking progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign aid. In March, we launched our Progress Report, which found that gains were made on our priority issues, but many issues were still in need of additional action to match the good policy rhetoric.

Publish What You Fund released its 2016 Aid Transparency Index, a ranking of 46 aid agencies and organizations, and we saw continued improvement toward greater transparency by the U.S. agencies evaluated. However, despite the progress, the United States overall fell short of meeting its commitment to IATI by the end of 2015.

MFAN continued to push the U.S. government on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) and the U.S. commitment to double support for DRM by 2020 as part of the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI). We were pleased to see, following an MFAN-hosted briefing on Capitol Hill with U.S. government officials, a public announcement regarding a baseline figure from which the U.S. will work to meet its ATI commitment.  MCC CEO Dana Hyde recently highlighted the successful DRM component of the Philippines compact, and USAID has a pilot DRM program in Liberia.

MFAN partners Save the Children and Oxfam America published a report which examines best practices in country ownership, featuring examples of U.S. programs in Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, and Rwanda.  The Center for Global Development also plans to release a report early next year assessing how USAID and MCC define, operationalize, and implement the United States’ commitment to country ownership.

Ahead of the election, we released a memo to the presidential transition teams with practical recommendations for how to further strengthen U.S. global development policy and practice. Our recommendations include: elevating development as a national priority; increasing aid effectiveness through country ownership and accountability; reforming humanitarian assistance, including food aid; moving into new forms of partnership beyond aid; and enhancing development finance and enabling private sector investment. We are continuing to sharpen these recommendations for President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress as we head into the New Year.

The Final Year of the Obama Administration

President Obama once again demonstrated a strong commitment to development and effective foreign assistance in his FY17 budget request, including provisions such as: support for domestic resource mobilization at the Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance; a boost for USAID’s Operating Expenses budget, which is essential for providing adequate personnel and training; support for emergency food aid flexibility, and local and regional purchase of food aid; a request for additional funds to strengthen USAID’s evaluation and learning capacity; and support for regionally-oriented investments at MCC.

In March, at a joint MFAN-Brookings event, USAID released a new report on evaluation practice at the Agency in the five years since the release of its Evaluation Policy. USAID Administrator Gayle Smith attended the event and pointed out that the evaluation policy has resulted in a major cultural shift and that thanks to the policy, more high-quality evaluations are being done and are being used to inform decision making. MFAN released a two-pager this summer on how we can get the most from evaluations.

A major achievement for the Obama Administration, under the leadership of USAID Administrator Gayle Smith, was the revision of USAID’s internal Automated Directives System (ADS) guidance, released in September. The new guidance has the potential to have a major impact on how the Agency designs, operationalizes, and evaluates development programs, and we were pleased to see a clear commitment to increasing accountability and local ownership embedded in the revision. The more streamlined and focused guidance is truly commendable, and it marks a return to USAID’s best practices.

The Aid Reform Legacy of the 114th Congress

Foreign aid effectiveness had a number of big wins this year and we are so grateful for the widespread bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.  MFAN partner U.S. Global Leadership Coalition recently released a video featuring a bipartisan group of legislators reflecting on the various foreign assistance-related achievements of the 114th Congress.

In July, President Obama signed two major pieces of foreign aid legislation into law. Most notably, after many years of hard work by MFAN members and champions on Capitol Hill, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is now officially on the books. This law would not have happened without the dedicated leadership 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), to get it to the finish line.

The second piece of legislation that was enacted was the Global Food Security Act, sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Casey (D-PA). The law includes important reforms that will help increase accountability and promote greater country ownership of U.S. foreign aid programs related to food security and global agricultural development.

Also in July, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Economic Growth and Development Act, which is cosponsored by Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Chris Coons (D-DE). This legislation, which is expected to be reintroduced in the 115th Congress in both the House and Senate, will establish better coordination between U.S. development agencies and private sector investments and activities for development purposes.

And just this month, Congress approved the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including provisions that will improve accountability for security cooperation programs at the Department of Defense (DOD). Specifically, DOD will now be required to monitor and evaluate, and submit an annual budget request and justification for all security cooperation programs and activities. DOD has lagged behind other U.S. agencies involved in foreign aid when it comes to transparency, monitoring and evaluation, and these new provisions can better ensure the effectiveness and coherence of security cooperation programs.

Finally, we are sad to bid farewell to Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), one of the founding Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, who will be retiring at the end of this Congress. Rep. Crenshaw has been a staunch advocate for foreign aid reform in his time as CCEFA Co-Chair and we are deeply thankful for his leadership. We look forward to welcoming Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) as the new CCEFA Co-Chair to serve with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA).

Happy Holidays!
We look forward to another productive year in 2017! 

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