Year in Review: Reform Takes Center Stage

As 2017 draws to a close, the Trump Administration is reviewing redesign proposals submitted by the State Department and USAID, Congress is completing its Fiscal Year 2018 funding negotiations and beginning the FY2019 process, and the MFAN community is actively engaging to ensure aid effectiveness priorities are reflected in both processes.

Last year, with the consequential 2016 presidential election looming, MFAN took a step back to assess the progress that has been achieved in aid reform over the past two administrations as well as look ahead to opportunities on the horizon. MFAN’s memo for the next President and the new 115th Congress emphasized responsible country transitions, development finance, and humanitarian aid as areas ripe for reform in 2017 and beyond.

In the first year of the Trump Administration, MFAN used the memo as a platform for maintaining and strengthening our commitment to working with Congress, the Administration, and the community to make U.S. foreign assistance more accountable and locally-driven.

President Trump’s First Budget

Although MFAN has not historically weighed in on overall foreign affairs funding levels, the Trump Administration’s unprecedented 30% proposed cut to the State Department and USAID presents a serious threat to aid effectiveness. MFAN called attention to crippling proposed cuts that would hollow out USAID’s Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau, where many of the advancements in transparency, accountability, and country ownership are managed. The MFAN community joined Congress in a strong bipartisan rebuke of the request and we continue to engage on the final FY2018 negotiations to advance aid effectiveness.

State Department and USAID Redesign

Not long after the budget release, the White House announced its plans to reorganize the federal government, calling for individual agencies to submit redesign plans.  The Administration’s stated aim for the reorganization and proposed budget cuts was to increase efficiency and effectiveness. While MFAN has worked to make foreign aid more efficient and effective since our founding, we disagreed with this approach. The proposed cuts are disproportionate and arbitrary, and the large-scale reorganization effort is not guided by a clear overarching strategy.

As leaders for responsible reforms, MFAN issued a set of Guiding Principles for Effective U.S. Assistance, which provide a roadmap for reform that builds on decades of best practices in aid effectiveness. More than 170 organizations and individuals joined MFAN in calling for the redesign effort to adhere to sound principles and a U.S. Global Development Strategy, and be conducted in consultation with Congress and the development community. This strong policy statement gained broad support, including four former USAID Administrators, three former Members of Congress, implementing NGOs, advocacy coalitions, private sector organizations. Various thought leaders also provided their own perspectives on the five core principles in a series of op-eds published in The Hill.

The MFAN Co-Chairs were first out of the gate in early summer with a detailed reorganization proposal to elevate development and define clear lines of authority. Informed by the MFAN Guiding Principles, the ambitious plan proposed the creation of a new independent lead Global Development Agency as well as a Development Finance Corporation to better to leverage private capital for development. MFAN continues to host a public conversation around this effort on our blog where community leaders have offered their opinions on the details of the redesign.

A number of other proposals soon followed from a variety of experts, and MFAN identified several common recommendations among them. In October, the MFAN Co-Chairs convened the authors of six reports on redesign and led the effort to find points of agreement among the group. The resulting Redesign Consensus plan asserts that the State Department and USAID have distinct and mutually reinforcing missions and the structure of the agencies should reflect this reality.

The Role of Congress

Leaders on Capitol Hill are also publicly calling for the Trump Administration to ensure a transparent reorganization process. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees included strong language requiring consultation on the redesign effort in their FY2018 spending packages. The House Co-Chairs of the newly bicameral Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, Reps. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA), along with nearly 70 bipartisan Members of Congress urged the White House to fully engage with Congress and echoed MFAN’s call for a U.S. Global Development Strategy.  There have been similar efforts from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN).

In August, MFAN warmly welcomed the confirmation of former U.S. Representative and Ambassador Mark Green to serve as USAID Administrator. Congress and the MFAN community have praised Green for his extensive experience as a legislator, Ambassador to Tanzania, and President of the International Republican Institute. As Administrator, Mark Green has stated that the purpose of foreign assistance should be to create the conditions under which it is no longer needed – one of MFAN’s Guiding Principles of effectiveness.

A Look Ahead

MFAN has therefore taken the lead on articulating Principles for Strategic Transitions from Development Aid, which outline a responsible approach to moving countries along the continuum towards different forms of partnership with the United States. These principles include longstanding MFAN priorities, such as domestic resource mobilization, transparency and evaluation, and local capacity strengthening.

Other Highlights from 2017

The bipartisan Economic Growth and Development Act (H.R. 2747 & S. 1274) is sponsored by all four Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) in the Senate and Reps. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA) in the House. The legislation aims to improve coordination with the private sector while supporting country ownership and accountability of development assistance.

The bipartisan Multilateral Aid Review Act (S. 1928), which is sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE),  also advances aid effectiveness principles by calling for a comprehensive review of U.S. contributions to multilateral institutions.  MFAN believes the review should be included as part of a broader U.S. Global Development Strategy.

The Lugar Center and MFAN published an assessment of how well the largest U.S. development agencies are using foreign assistance evaluations to inform decision making. The study found that every agency has increased the quantity of evaluations completed. However, according to the study, agencies still need to improve their procedures for using evaluations in program, policy, and budget planning. The public conversation around the findings is ongoing, use #Evidence2Learning to participate.

A long-term evaluation of MFAN’s effectiveness as a coalition found a highly focused network that has helped mainstream aid effectiveness principles.  The Hewlett Foundation-commissioned study examined MFAN’s influence on several policy outcomes including the Presidential Policy Directive on Development and the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. Current and former MFAN members and outside stakeholders were interviewed and surveyed by BLE Solutions who authored the report.

We thank MFAN members and the development community for their continued dedication to advancing effective development.  We wish you a happy and safe holiday season and look forward to working with you in 2018!

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