Believe It or Not, Congress is Getting Things Done – on Foreign Assistance

June 16, 2016 By Amanda Boyce

It’s conventional wisdom that Congress doesn’t get much done in an election year. But under the radar, Congress has been remarkably productive at moving bipartisan legislation on foreign assistance.

In December, Congress passed into law the Electrify Africa Act, which codifies the Power Africa initiative and leverages private sector resources to extend electricity access to 50 million people across Africa.

And the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015, introduced in the House (H.R. 3766) by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and in the Senate (S. 2184) by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), seeks to:

  • Require the President to establish and implement monitoring and evaluation guidelines – including measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans – across U.S. international development and economic assistance programs.
  • Require the President to create guidelines to foster collaborative partnerships and coordination with appropriate implementing partners and academic, national, and international institutions.
  • Mandate the Secretary of State to ensure contains detailed information (updated quarterly) regarding U.S. foreign assistance on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis.
  • Require the Government Accountability Office to analyze and report to Congress the relevant agencies’ adherence to these benchmarks.

The Act aims to build upon recent reforms undertaken by aid agencies and ensure they are carried on into the next administration. Such reforms have been taking place since 2004, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was established. Ever since, the agency has been and at the cutting edge of transparency and results-driven use of rigorous monitoring and evaluation. MCC is also the highest ranked U.S. agency in the Publish What You Fund 2016 Aid Transparency Index.

USAID, through USAID Forward reforms, including a new Evaluation Policy launched in 2011, also continues to increase accountability and effectiveness. USAID has conducted more than 1,000 evaluations by independent third parties over 5 years, 98 percent of which have been used to shape policies.

MCC and USAID are not only becoming more rigorous and transparent. They are also leveraging taxpayer dollars for greater impact by mobilizing funding from other governments, businesses and NGOs. For instance, every dollar the U.S. government has committed to Power Africa has been leveraged to secure six dollars in commitments from other governments and the private sector.

House and Senate sponsors of the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act are committed to passing the legislation into law. Codifying these game-changing reforms is critical to ensuring that the next administration, regardless of who is elected, builds on this progress.

At a time when political polarization can seem stronger than ever, members of Congress have found common ground in ensuring the sustained effectiveness of development and diplomacy. This bill could be one more on a remarkable list of bipartisan foreign assistance accomplishments during this election season (including the Global Food Security Act, which is closer than ever to becoming law). Who would have guessed?