US launches foreignassistance.gov

Today in DC, the US government launched the new Foreign Assistance Dashboard.  This new website, and particularly the data behind it, is an important first step to increase the timeliness, comparability and comprehensiveness of information on American foreign assistance.

After a series of consultations with agencies, NGOs and the development community, the team at ‘F’ (a bureau in the State Department) has launched the first version of a new one stop shop to finding information about U.S. aid. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard, is a tool to disclose, visualize and allow people to explore U.S. aid information.  It responds to the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, steps agreed in the Accra Agenda for Action and President Obama’s Open Government Initiative focusing on making government transparent, participatory and collaborative.

The most important and exciting thing about the site is that it is the beginning of more and better things to come.  This is the first output of an important interagency aid transparency process working to develop a common framework and publish aid information, documents and data across all of the agencies providing foreign assistance.

The team have already outlined elements of future iterations of the site, including expenditure and project information and adding in more agencies beyond the current USAID and State Department information – including MCC and Treasury in the first instance and extending to others to represent a larger portion of the foreign assistance pot.

At the Hill briefing this afternoon on the new US foreign assistance policy document, the QDDR the State Department Director of Policy Planning, Anne-Marie Slaughter stated that the dashboard aimed to “cover all foreign assistance across the government, […] so you can see what we’re spending and you can see whether or not there are results, because in the end, nothing we do from the point of view of contracts is nearly as powerful as empowering the people who have a stake in getting that assistance to find out what happened to it.” (For more on the QDDR and aid transparency see here).

The interagency aid transparency group’s 7 guiding principles for the dashboard are:

  1. Presumption of disclosure
  2. Putting existing data online in open format
  3. Sharing detailed, timely and quality data-beyond budget level information to granular details and results
  4. Prioritizing – core data fields and identifying these is critical for version 2.0
  5. Building on comprehensiveness and comparability of data within agencies and other donors though engaging with the International Aid Transparency Initiative
  6. Accessibility of aid data and aid information
  7. Institutionalizing this effort to ensure it last, by issuing an OMB statistical bulletin.

The data on the site currently is from Fiscal Years 2006-2011 from State Department and USAID, available in the Congressional Budget Justification.

Our Christmas wish list for version 2.0 to would be:

  • Build in data comparability to other donors, but particularly to recipient country systems so taxpayers in both donor and recipient countries can see the impact of their efforts in relation to others.
  • Clarify who gives and who gets what: separating out activities from USAID and State Department in the short term as well as the other agencies as they are added
  • Let’s get the data to project level and disbursement across agencies
  • Support others to use the data – don’t try and make the dashboard the only way to explore the data, but democratise it by supporting and encourage others to build websites, dashboards and ways of exploring the information.

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