A More Effective, Transparent Foreign Aid

October 9, 2014 By Zach Silberman

October usually means a couple things: cooler weather and fall baseball (alas, not for Washington Nationals fans this year). It also means the issue of aid accountability is in the air with the annual release of Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index. Each year, ATI ranks foreign aid agencies around the world on their efforts to be more transparent and meet their commitments made at the High Level Meetings in Busan for greater transparency and accountability. Transparency is a critical tool for anyone interested in U.S. foreign assistance — from international affairs agencies looking to take stock of effectiveness, to members of Congress concerned with ensuring accountability.

This year’s index highlighted some positive news for the United States as the Millennium Challenge Corporation continued to be the most accountable and transparent U.S. aid agency.  The index also praised the State Department and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for their efforts to publish their data in a common, open standard that reflects the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

pepfar-main-image-girlPEPFAR was recognized for the greatest improvement in the past year, gaining 20 points from the last index. The increase reflects its commitment to publishing its data that incorporates the IATI standards. New coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx recently laid out her vision for PEPFAR “to achieve an AIDS-free generation through impact, accountability, transparency, shared responsibility, and a commitment to human rights.” During the launch event of ATI, she reiterated that PEPFAR will continue its efforts and “was not done” in terms of providing more accountability and transparency.

The State Department was also recognized “for beginning to publish information on its foreign assistance to the Dashboard and IATI in June 2014” while making “improvements on the information it publishes, including redesigning its transparency websites, and making foreign assistance evaluation summaries publicly available.” While USAID did not show the same kind of progress this year, it is releasing an Open Government Plan that will investigate the costs and lay out a plan for fulfilling IATI standards and publishing usable data on its aid programs. This is a positive step in the right direction.

The results show progress by U.S. agencies towards delivering more effective foreign assistance programs during a difficult budget climate, even if much more remains to be done. There are some signs of a “race to the top” as agencies see others recognized for making progress, but there is also a growing spread between those making rapid progress and those making little progress. In Congress, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX), and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) have taken the lead, co-sponsoring bi-partisan legislation to promote transparency and accountability. While the House bill has not passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee yet, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed its version of the bill late last year. Let’s hope the upcoming session of Congress after the mid-terms could present an opportunity for an issue with bipartisan support to make even more progress towards transparency, accountability, and effectiveness.