Good information is key to ensuring that U.S. foreign assistance has maximum positive impact. If policymakers, taxpayers, and intended beneficiaries do not know how much is being spent, what it is being used for, who is getting the funds, and what the results are, how will they judge if it is money well spent? Moving towards a results-based system, where decisions are made on the basis of facts and evidence, requires that the United States and all other donors open up the books on their aid, and that partner countries publish their government budgets.
Over the past decade, aid transparency has been significantly enhanced across the U.S. Government. The State Department created the ForeignAssistance.gov website that reports to the International Aid Transparency Initiative and hosts foreign aid program data from 13 of the more than 20 U.S. agencies that carry out aid programs, and combined represent 98% of U.S. foreign assistance funds.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) have studied and initiated improvements to the use of data by local partners. State and USAID have begun to improve their internal information management systems, though currently fund and run two contradictory data dashboards. Read more about MFAN’s recent database advocacy here.
USAID, MCC, the State Department, and the Department of Defense – as required by the 2017 Defense Authorization bill – have all released policies requiring independent evaluations of foreign assistance and are making their full evaluations or summaries public. In July 2016, Congress and the President enacted the bipartisan “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” (PL 114-191), institutionalizing ForeignAssistance.gov and requiring foreign aid transparency as well as centralized guidelines for monitoring and evaluating U.S. assistance. In 2019, the Government Accountability Office assessed implementation, and MFAN continues to monitor GAO’s recommendations regarding monitoring and evaluation policies.
After conducting a study of evaluation utilization, USAID revised its internal guidance in 2016 to ensure that evaluations are used to inform programs and decision-making. MCC developed a strategic plan that will invest in greater learning for adaptation and greater impact and has emerged as a leader in the are of meaningful learning.
All foreign aid agencies – in particular USAID, PEPFAR, the State Department, Defense Department, and OPIC – should improve systems for developing learning agendas, sharing findings, and informing budgets and program design.