US Foreign Assistance

Measuring the impact of changes to the US foreign assistance budget

As both the Administration and Congress debate the future shape and size of US foreign assistance, it is vital that they possess a solid understanding of the impact of their decisions. To contribute towards this evidence base, Publish What You Fund launched a project to investigate the potential impact of future cuts.

US Foreign Assistance Budget, 2009 – 2018

The project combines a deep-dive into the data and research in partner countries. The findings are being fed into the FY19 congressional budget debates through our strong network of US partners.

A key outcome will be to actively demonstrate how better data on foreign assistance can be used to improve decision making. A set of recommendations on how the US might further improve its aid transparency has been produced.

Summary of findings

Read the summary paper The Impact of Proposed Cuts to US Foreign Assistance, as well as each individual country briefings:

  • Nicaragua: The budget proposed ending all bilateral aid to Nicaragua. The US is the only donor to operate independently of the Nicaraguan government’s influence. If the US was to withdraw, it would severely damage the democracy movement, broader civil society and women’s rights groups. A number of independent organisations will be forced to close. Download report.
  • Cambodia: The budget proposed ending bilateral agricultural assistance in Cambodia. Poverty gains will be adversely affected, as no other OECD donor is able to shift program focus to cover a gap. China will likely fill some of the resource gap, increasing its influence and leadership in Cambodia. The space for Cambodia’s civil society could shrink further and slow down governance reform efforts. Download report. 
  • Liberia: The budget proposed a 66% cut to democracy and governance work in Liberia. US achievements in institution-strengthening will be endangered, especially in light of the election of a new and inexperienced government. There are concerns that this will have serious ramifications for anti-corruption, civil society, and the decentralisation of services to support the most vulnerable. Download report.
  • Senegal: The budget proposed a 56% cut to agricultural assistance in Senegal. There will be a significant gap in tackling food insecurity, which other donors may work to fill but would take years. In the interim, the worsening conditions could contribute to destabilising the country — notably the Casamance, where a reduction of agricultural support may risk efforts to end the low-level conflict there. Download report.
  • US Transparency: We have used our experience of accessing and using US aid data to reflect on the state of US aid information and have identified a number of issues that US aid agencies should address. The United States joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in 2011. Progress to turn this aid transparency commitment into usable IATI data has been a struggle for most US agencies. This paper assesses IATI data for three US agencies – the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of State (State), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Download report.

The project

  • Research: The project initially scoped all available open aid data and analyzed the political economy of a number of partner countries currently receiving foreign assistance. This was followed by key informant interviews in Washington DC and each of the partner countries, as well as comparative research on other donor activities in those countries. This research aimed to determine the potential impact of changes to the US budget.
  • Distribution: The findings were written up into a main report accompanied by country-specific briefings. These were distributed through face to face events as well as via our partners in Washington DC.
  • Transparency: Taking lessons from the scoping of available open aid data at the start of the project, we produced a number of targeted recommendations for how the US government can improve its transparency. The aim of this is to enable both the government and others to access and use this information more effectively in future.

Read our full research methodology here.



James Coe

James Coe

Senior Advocacy Advisor

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Sally Paxton

Sally Paxton

US Representative

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Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith

Project Assistant

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