U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. The bill requires regular evaluations of foreign assistance programs be made available to the American public. Photo by: U.S. Senate and Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved on Thursday the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, which would make law Obama administration policies that strive to hold foreign aid agencies more accountable through systematic monitoring, evaluation and online disclosure of program data and results.

The approved version of the bill introduced in July by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) includes a provision that resolves “in a relatively acceptable manner” what had been a source of concern among some U.S. government agencies: the evaluation of potentially sensitive security sector assistance programs, George Ingram, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, told Devex.

The committee revised a subsection of the proposed law which now grants sensitive security assistance programs an exemption from the administration’s accountability guidelines, so long as the government is already taking steps “that are similar to those referred to in this section pursuant to guidance that the President has promulgated.”

“It’s the semblance of a waiver, and it gives them waiver authority from the explicit provisions of the bill, but it requires evaluation of security assistance,” said Ingram, who raised objections to the exemption of security assistance programs in an interview with Devex in September.

He added: “It gives them a lot of flexibility on exactly how they do it, but it doesn’t allow them not to do evaluation of security sector assistance, and that’s good.”

In approving the bill, the senate committee also relaxed some of its previous deadlines and timeframes, changing the requirement for updating data on the online ”foreign assistance dashboard” from 90 to 120 days, even though the administration has already committed to updating the site quarterly  every 90 days.

No drastic changes

With committee approval, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act can now be sent to the Senate floor for a full chamber vote.

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) has already introduced a companion bill — H.R. 2638 — in the House Foreign Relations Committee, but it has yet to be approved. Poe introduced a similar bill, which passed unanimously in the House late last year, so experts are optimistic about the fate of the current legislation in that chamber.

Neither bill makes any drastic change to current foreign aid accountability and evaluation policies, said Ingram, but instead allows “future congresses to hold the administration accountable” to the standards the Obama administration’s current accountability guidelines have put in place.

“This puts congress on record and establishes in the law, and therefore legalizes and institutionalizes, the policies that this administration has already adopted,” said Ingram.

The bill has garnered support from other observers.

In a statement, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Executive Director Liz Schrayer commended the bill’s sponsors for their “leadership on this bipartisan legislation.” Schrayer added the approved bill “builds on the important reforms being undertaken by USAID and those modeled by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to ensure the highest standards for transparency and results for international affairs programs.”

The House Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing for their version of the bill, and there has been no indication as to when the approved Senate bill might be sent to the floor.

At the same hearing on Thursday, the Senate committee supported a number of Obama administration nominees to aid-related U.S. government posts  among them, former Millennium Challenge Corp. CEO Daniel Yohannes to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Carrie Hessler-Radelet to be the next director of the Peace Corps. Hessler-Radelet previously served as Peace Corps deputy director.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.