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 in October 2017 to investigate the potential impact of future cuts. We used open-source aid data and in-country research to assess the impact of changes in four case study countries. Our work had three key objectives:
- To make policymakers aware of the potential impact of changes to US foreign assistance
- To demonstrate how better data on foreign assistance can be used to improve budgeting and decision making
- To improve US aid transparency, based on our own experience of accessing the data
Working through our networks, we have fed the findings of our in-country research into the FY19 congressional budget debates. We are now working with the leading US aid agencies to improve US aid transparency.
Summary of country studies
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
We also produced a summary of our findings:
You can read our full research methodology here.
Summary of transparency reports
- US Transparency: An Assessment of US International Aid Transparency Initiative Data
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. 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).
Our final assessment concerns the documents that users need in order to understand and assess US development work. All three agencies provide good strategic level documentation, albeit at a relatively high level. However, project level documents, so critical for understanding a project’s objectives, approach, and results, is unevenly published. With the exception of some evaluations, State publishes virtually no project level documents. USAID provides a large number of documents, mostly through its Development Experience Clearinghouse, but it is not particularly user friendly and appears to be incomplete for more recent documents. Finally, MCC provides the most complete documentation, although details about its sub-compact projects could be more robust.
- US Dashboards: Throughout our research we built on previous analyses of the two US dashboards (FA.Gov and FAE) and, along with the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), produced an in depth comparison of the dashboards as well as a summary paper.