For better aid results, we need better aid data

The enactment of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is the needed push for all U.S. agencies to improve accountability and further strengthen efforts to make aid more transparent. Photo by: Ken Teegardin / CC BY-SA

In Syria, 11 million people have been displaced. In Yemen, 21 million are in need of humanitarian aid. With crises like these escalating around the globe, effective and efficient allocation of U.S. foreign assistance is necessary to ensuring our limited resources are having maximum impact.

To spend aid resources effectively, the importance of knowing where they’re going and regularly monitoring and evaluating what they’re doing cannot be overstated. Being more transparent and requiring rigorous evaluation of foreign aid are commonsense ways to increase the accountability and impact of our resources.

Recently, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin and Reps. Ted Poe and Gerry Connolly came together to introduce a bill to strengthen U.S. foreign assistance so that we can better track aid spending and results. The bipartisan, bicameral Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act would require that the president establish uniform evaluation guidelines, and the secretary of state ensure foreign aid spending information be made publicly available and regularly updated on the existing website.

Some of this work is already underway. The Millennium Challenge Corp. is ranked one of the most transparent aid agencies in the world by Publish What You Fund; 10 of the 22 U.S. agencies that deliver foreign assistance are reporting spending data to (albeit, often incomplete spending data); and the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have both established reasonably rigorous evaluation policies. This bill would reinforce these positive steps taken by the past two administrations to improve the accountability of foreign assistance and further strengthen efforts to make aid more transparent and results-driven.

Efforts to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our aid, like this legislation, cannot be put on the backburner. By being transparent about where aid is going and for what purpose, we can better identify gaps and respond to needs quickly. Without having comprehensive and timely data that is publicly available, the ability to respond and collaborate with our partners and other donors is inhibited. Enacting this legislation would be the needed push for all U.S. agencies involved in providing assistance to further progress and institutionalize these principles of accountability.

Congressmen Rubio, Cardin, Poe and Connolly have demonstrated a firm commitment to getting this legislation passed. They have previously introduced versions in the 112th Congress, where it unanimously passed the House of Representatives, and the 113th Congress, where it unanimously passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This version of the bill already has positive momentum and is being considered in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday.

We are hopeful that with long-standing bipartisan support for this effort, we can keep up the momentum and finally see this sensible legislation signed into law.

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About the authors

  • George Ingram

    George Ingram is a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution, and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. Previously, Ingram was professional staff of the House Committee on Foreign affairs and deputy assistant administrator at USAID.
  • Carolyn Miles

    Carolyn Miles is president and CEO of Save the Children and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. After starting out as an entrepreneur and working in Hong Kong for American Express, Miles joined Save the Children in 1998 and was also COO from 2004-2011.
  • Connie Veillette

    Connie Veillette is a senior fellow for global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.