Effective, Transparent, and Results-driven Assistance

The administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama—as well as members of both parties in Congress—have recognized the importance of data, transparency, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for the effectiveness of foreign assistance. This recognition is reflected in actions taken by Congress and the executive branch over more than 10 years, including: the establishment of two data- and results-driven agencies (PEPFAR [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and the Millennium Challenge Corporation) under the Bush administration; the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government signed by President Obama on his first full day in office; the commitment to publishing the U.S. government’s foreign assistance data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI); and most recently, the passage of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA). These actions and many others have laid a good foundation for transforming the way foreign assistance is managed. The next administration has an opportunity to not only solidify these gains, but also make the U.S. government an international leader in transparent, result-driven, foreign assistance.

InterAction Recognizes

  • Over the past 10 years, U.S. agencies have demonstrated a growing commitment to evidence-based decision making in development—in particular monitoring, evaluation, and learning. Both USAID and the Department of State developed open data and evaluation policies and the Department of Defense is in the process of drafting its own policy. PEPFAR introduced a data dashboard with significant data collection and reporting initiatives, including information on its Country and Regional Operational Plans, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation publicly refined many of the models it uses for data-informed selection of investment locations, economic cost benefit assessments, and monitoring and evaluation.

  • Publicly available data on U.S. foreign assistance have increased tremendously, but still need practical improvements to be useful. Needed improvements range from issues with the quality of the data published, to a need for more demographically disaggregated data and results data. Realizing the potential of transparency to make foreign assistance more effective and accountable will require resources for data systems and personnel responsible for making data available, as well as greater efforts to align the available data with the needs of known users. It will also require senior leaders and management of government and development agencies to model an organizational culture that values information sharing and the use of data for decision making.

  • Aid organizations and donors need to partner more efficiently and with more transparency to foster more partnerships and increase funding sources. The Grand Bargain, launched at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, seeks to provide a partnership inducing framework to facilitate collaboration with greater transparency and reduced operating costs while minimizing burdensome reporting requirements. 

Upcoming Opportunities

  • Implementation of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA) [2017 and beyond]: In July 2016, the bipartisan FATAA was signed into law, directing the “President to establish guidelines for the establishment of measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for U.S. foreign development and economic assistance.” These guidelines should build on what U.S. agencies have already done in this area, emphasizing the importance of aligning U.S. assistance with country priorities and capacity wherever possible, focusing data collection on what is needed for decision making, and promoting the use of evidence by both U.S. agencies and local actors.

  • Fulfillment of U.S. National Action Plan Commitments under the Open Government Partnership [Ongoing]: The U.S. government’s third National Action Plan under the Open Government Partnership includes two commitments related to foreign assistance transparency: one focused on improving the quality of the data published; and the second on encouraging use of that data by U.S. and local stakeholders. These commitments are to be implemented by June 2017.

  • Moving from innovation to implementation [2017 and Beyond]: Administration efforts to modernize aid and expand impact such as USAID Forward as well as USAID’s Learning Lab, its Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, and its Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, have created a new culture within the administration focused on doing things better and more efficiently for better results. The incoming administration and 115th Congress have the opportunity to institutionalize innovations and incorporate fresh and effective ideas into broader policy implementation. USAID can continue to work on educating and training staff on new implementing mechanisms, and Congress can support such efforts through appropriations and authorizing legislation.

  • Support the Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships [2017 and Beyond]: Goal 17 prioritizes policy and institutional coherence and data, monitoring, and accountability as means to revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. The U.S. government can lead by example by incorporating Goal 17 directives into its foreign assistance policies, priorities, and budgets. Furthermore, through global leadership, the U.S. can coordinate donor and recipient efforts more efficiently.

  • Have the new USAID administrator focus on eliminating bureaucratic obstacles hindering partnerships with civil society [Nomination Hearing in 2017]: In April 2016, USAID released revised guidelines—Automated Directives System 304—for the selection of assistance and acquisition. This was a positive step toward resolving issues non-profits face with operational and bureaucratic obstacles of agency procurement. USAID should initiate agency-wide training for these revised guidelines to facilitate better internal understanding of U.S. law, enable efficient processes, and ensure the proper application of the revised guidelines. USAID should recognize that assistance mechanisms provide lasting connections between international and local civil society organizations. In addition, USAID should continue efforts to shorten Procurement Administrative Lead Times (PALT), and identify and maintain effective mechanisms with a proven record of accomplishment. This would ensure more responsiveness to locally identified needs.

Additional Materials

Download This Issue Brief

Download FABB 2016

Foreign Assistance Briefing Book:   2016  |  2013  |  2011  |  2008