On July 1st, Publish What You Fund released its 2015 U.S. Aid Transparency Review, which assesses the progress of six U.S. donors on their efforts to publish high quality aid information. The Busan deadline – December 2015 – is when the U.S. has committed to fully implementing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). And important commitments are at stake in the Financing for Development conference in mid-July in Addis Ababa. So at Publish What You Fund, we thought a mid-year progress report would be an important undertaking to see where these U.S. agencies are and what needs to be done in the next six months.
The Review found that the progress of the various agencies was mixed – only two of the six are “on track” to meet the 2015 deadline. For a number of years, USAID has lagged in its performance of our Annual Transparency Index, coming in at the bottom of the “Fair” category in both 2013 and 2014.
But USAID is turning an important corner. In our 2015 Review, it was the biggest improver, jumping 22 points from its 2014 score to reach the “good” category for the first time. Behind this improvement was the effort of a small cross-cutting working group. Consistent with USAID’s Open Government Plan commitment to undertake both an analysis of its IATI capabilities and what it would take – both in terms of resources and steps – this working group produced a four-phase cost management plan.
On June 4th, the Acting Administrator approved three out of the four phases of the plan. Additionally, the intent is to have IATI folded into its Development Information Solution, so that it is integrated with its other information platforms, thus obviating the need for Phase IV. And on July 1st, USAID made its International Aid Transparency Initiative Cost Management plan public.
One might sensibly ask why what seems like such a bureaucratic exercise is important? There are a few reasons – which cover both the content and the way in which USAID is conducting its efforts to achieve robust publication of its aid information:
- In order to implement the IATI standard, agencies need to identify what it publishes, where the gaps are, and what it will take to be fully compliant, both in terms of resources and processes. The working group approached this in a pragmatic way. In fact, phase I (which were internal steps that could be taken without resource implications) was completed in April – before the approval of phrases II and III. This thorough internal review will help to ensure efforts are sustainable and long lasting.
- The working group consulted with the stakeholder community on its initial plan – prior to agency approval. This informal outreach underscored the agency’s commitment to practice
- This same practice of consulting prior to a final report was also done in connection with USAID’s Aid Transparency Pilot Assessment, where two consultations were held – again, prior to reaching the final conclusions.
The plan isn’t perfect. The published cost management plan, for example, is very light on the “cost” part. And publishing a plan doesn’t guarantee success. But it is very hard to deliver without a vision on how to get to the finish line. Top USAID leadership will need to give the working group’s plan its continued support so that implementation moves forward on time and on budget.
But this is a really positive step. So congratulations to USAID. We look forward to your continued forward progress on the road to aid transparency.