Success in the U.S.

Last week we launched our 2012 Aid Transparency Index in Washington, D.C. at the brand new Open Gov Hub.

Having been nearly a year since Secretary Clinton announced the U.S. would join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), we wanted to host a discussion reflecting on U.S. progress and its impact on the global policy environment.

The event itself was very well attended – both from the U.S. and international development communities – which was unsurprising given the panelists. The full roster included:

  • Gayle Smith, National Security Council, Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director
  • Sheila Herrling, MCC, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
  • Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns
  • Donald Steinberg, USAID, Deputy Administrator
  • Robert Goldberg, State Department, Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources
  • Michael Elliott, CEO, ONE (moderator)

George Ingram, the chair of our U.S. Advisory Committee, opened the event talking about the important of transparency in development.

Our director David Hall-Matthews followed by presenting the Index and U.S. Aid Transparency Report Card. The main finding of both reports is that, while donor transparency is on the rise, progress is slow and still falls short of best practice. David picked out the U.S. agencies’ positions in the global ranking, and closed by saying it was important that the U.S. takes the opportunity to lead the aid transparency movement.

Gayle Smith was next. She commented on the importance of institutionalizing openness, highlighting the serious work being done behind the scenes to prepare for U.S. IATI implementation. She confirmed that transparency continues to be a big priority for this Administration, as seen by the Open Government Plans and OGP. She also praised the Index itself, which was very exciting for the whole team.

Rob Goldberg, who heads up the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard team, said we need to look back at where we’ve come from – “zero transparency” – two years ago. He also made the welcome announcement that the U.S. would be publishing its first data files to the IATI Registry this year, supported by a “crosswalk” of data fields between the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and IATI and a full IATI implementation schedule for publishing activity level information.

Sheila Herring took the opportunity to announce MCC had just launched data.mcc.gov. It records open, machine-readable data, and will be populated incrementally, starting with selection data (for selecting country compacts).

It wasn’t a total love-in though. The U.S. Government pushed back on some of our key recommendations, especially regarding speed vs. control of data quality, and forward-looking information, which the U.S. struggles with due to its annual appropriations system.

Don Steinberg said USAID was about “half-way there” now on geocoding the agency’s information, an approach he said his agency greatly valued, particularly in response to the Horn of Africa famine. He did say we now need to capture private flows, because while USG gives around $30bn pa, U.S. private donors give $37bn.

Paul O’Brien emphasised the view from organisations like Oxfam, doing work on the ground – that there is no time to waste, there is a food crisis just around the corner and we need unanimity of purpose right now.

Overall, we believe we received some good commitments from the Administration on IATI implementation, the Dashboard-to-IATI process and full implementation by 2015. Certainly, we viewed the OMB Bulletin (cross-government guidance on aid data out last week) as crucial to institutionalisation of IATI and aid transparency more generally – see Sarah Jane Staats’ excellent blog for more on this.

From our perspective, representation from the U.S. Government alone shows that Publish What You Fund and our partners are viewed as serious watchdogs, and our Index has credible value. Many thanks are due to those partners – ONE, Global Integrity, Development Gateway, Oxfam to name a few. We certainly view the event as a success, and look forward to continuing our advocacy work in the U.S.

The next few months are critical, as the U.S. has committed to publishing an IATI implementation schedule by the end of 2012. If the U.S., along with all donors, are to deliver on their Busan commitment of full implementation by December 2015, publishing to IATI must begin in earnest in 2013.

The U.S. can and should be a leader on the aid transparency agenda. But it will not get there until its underlying data is released in a common format – and IATI is the only way to achieve full transparency.

Andrew Clarke

Andrew is the Advocacy Manager at Publish What You Fund. You can reach him at andrew.clarke@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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