Four ways for the U.S. to start a transparent 2014

Its mid-January – past the time to make (and break!) any new year’s resolutions, but still time to reflect on last year and assess the year ahead.

One thing is crystal clear: 2014 is a critical year for the U.S. if it is to meet its commitments on aid transparency.

President Obama Holds Election Night Event In Chicago

In 2013, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) placed number one in the now very competitive Aid Transparency Index (ATI) – a first for a U.S. agency – with some extremely high quality data.  Some other U.S. agencies also laid claim to some bragging rights on transparency, including Treasury’s OTA and USAID.

But last year’s news from the U.S. was not all rosy.

The State Department failed to publish any obligation, spent or transaction data, contributing to the U.S. missing its self-imposed 2013 goal of publishing 70% of official development assistance (ODA).

PEPFAR, the U.S.’s single largest foreign assistance initiative, has published no information to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, finishing 2013 with a “very poor” ATI ranking.  So, there is clearly some work to be done.

As part of its Busan commitment, the U.S. must publish its aid information fully to IATI by 2015. To reach that goal, it will have to push very hard this year.

Here are four suggestions to get the U.S. on the path to success:

  1. Reset the goals for the new year.  Start with updating the U.S. implementation schedule to reflect progress made and the limitations of those not yet publishing.  This is a good exercise for setting and managing goals.  As we did last year, we will again be assessing all implementation schedules and this time we hope to see U.S. progress and agency-by-agency specificity.
  2. As the President has already stated, data should be open and machine readable.  And XML works best.  Use it. Perhaps not all agencies are XML ready, but State and USAID Dashboard should ensure that they are.
  3. 2015 is just around the corner so don’t wait any longer to make investments in IT.  Ensure that IT and system upgrades include the ability to capture and publish the necessary aid information in an automated way.  Not only will this give agencies time to improve data quality before the 2015 deadline, but, among other benefits, these investments will pay handsome management rewards.
  4. Dial a friend.  Use a helpline.  Or in this case use external resources.  Other donors are working on similar publications issues and certainly the same deadline.  Yes, there are some unique issues for the U.S., but many are not.  There is a huge community that wants the U.S. to succeed, so tap into all the existing expertise and experience.

Achieving success is not easy – the U.S. has over 25 agencies involved in the foreign assistance business, so getting all of them on board is a hard slog.  But it is not unreachable, and 2013 demonstrated that there are agencies in the U.S. can do this.

One only needs to look at some other donors – the UK, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark to witness the quality publication of aid information to IATI.  Yes, many of these countries’ development systems are less complex than the U.S., but they also have made the priority decisions necessary to achieve their quality results.

MCC made the political and technical commitment and came out on top.  Treasury improved its results through a focused effort.  USAID, although it has issues with its multiple systems and its data quality, has a dedicated team working hard to meet its commitments.  And there have been smaller agencies that have also started to publish to the Dashboard.

But we need to see all the big U.S. agencies stepping up their game now – 2014 is already underway!

Sally Paxton

Sally is the U.S. Representative for Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at sally.paxton@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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Comments

  • January 17, 2014 at 17:08
    Doug Hadden says:

    There is a significant advantage for the US Government to support XML and IATI – better coordination among US agencies and better alignment of resources for objectives. The expense to support IATI may be justified in increased aid effectiveness.

  • January 23, 2014 at 14:53
    Jindra Cekan says:

    Great progress and yes, data/ reports must be in XML (so many USAID documents are in un-readable PDF). We also need this data from past projects to compare to how sustained the results are 1, 5, 10 years later! See http://www.ValuingVoices.com/blogs. Thanks

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