Capacity for Change: Aid transparency recommendation for USAID

‘Capacity for Change: Reforming U.S. Assistance Efforts in Poor and Fragile Countries’ describes the context for reform and examines the key issues for decision by policymakers in an effort to inform a coherent and effective national approach to both stabilization and broader development. It concludes with a set of recommendations and practical next steps, with the points referring to aid transparency below (bolding added).

p.35 – From ‘Aligning Strategy and Capacity – Key Questions’.

11. Are the State Department and USAID willing to expend resources to explain the importance of diplomacy and development to Capitol Hill and the public at large?

[…] In short, the State Department and USAID need to find a way to cultivate a culture of trust with key congressional staff and members, and vice versa. This need has been the focal point for a popular proposal within the community of experts focused on reforming foreign assistance for a “grand bargain” between Congress and the executive branch (32)—one that would forge a shared vision of the role and management of U.S. foreign assistance, provide the executive branch with the authority it needs to be appropriately adaptive, and ensure due accountability to Congress and the public. One result of such a broadly consultative process that would forge greater trust could be a reduction in the perceived need for earmarks.

Consistent transparency would be integral to the success of such a bargain. The understanding of Congress, and the American public more generally, suffers from the current lack of comprehensive and comparable information on how much is really being spent on international assistance, by which parts of the U.S. government, where, and for what purposes (33) Greater accessibility to such timely information, in line with emerging international standards, would enhance the ability of the administration to fully communicate with Congress and American taxpayers on issues of foreign assistance and support for global development efforts. Improved transparency would also reinforce this assistance by helping the citizens of developing countries to hold their governments and aid systems accountable.

32. See Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, “New Way, New Day: U.S. Foreign Assistance for the 21st Century,” June 2008, http://modernizingforeignassistance.net/documents/newdaynewway.pdf
33. For a more in-depth look at related issues of aid transparency, see the U.S.–focused work of Publish What You Fund, http://www.publishwhatyoufund.org/campaign-targets/us

p.45 – from Recommendations: Strategy section

Transform the Executive Branch’s Congressional Relations and Public Communication on Assistance Issues.
The roles of the public affairs and congressional liaison offices at the State Department and USAID need to be reenvisioned and transformed with respect to assistance issues. Both agencies, with congressional input and support, should be encouraged to take more responsibility for informing the U.S. public about their efforts and the importance of civilian assistance to foreign countries. And both agencies need to be able to effectively communicate why assistance—particularly assistance focused on prevention—and increased civilian capacity are as important for U.S. national security and international prosperity as the efforts of the U.S. military. As civilian capacity and skills grow stronger, this story will hopefully become easier to tell.

With respect to better public communication through greater transparency, a publicly accessible Web site should enable anyone to understand, with a few clicks of a mouse, how much U.S.government aid (across all agencies) is being spent, by sector, across global programs and for each country in the world. Through innovative online efforts like Recovery.gov, the Obama administration has already demonstrated a strong commitment to funding transparency. A similar effort should be applied to foreign aid. This would enhance the administration’s ability to fully communicate with Congress, American taxpayers, and international constituencies on issues of foreign assistance and U.S. support for global development efforts. In line with this effort, the U.S. government should also join and actively help shape the International Aid Transparency Initiative—a new, multistakeholder effort to increase the availability and accessibility of information about international aid.(9)

9. The International Aid Transparency Initiative was launched at the Accra High Level Forum on
Aid Effectiveness in September 2008, and currently has 16 donor signatories. http://aidtransparency.net/about-iati/

The full report can be found here.

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