Despite making several international transparency commitments, US donors still struggle to share useful information about their aid spending.
David Saldivar is a Policy and Advocacy Advisor on Oxfam America’s Aid Effectiveness team.
The 2014 edition of the Aid Transparency Index (ATI) comes out today, and the results are . . . mixed?
For some US foreign assistance agencies, the new index documents progress and achievement in fulfilling the US government’s commitment to make aid more transparent.
- MCC, which led the ATI pack last year, maintains its leadership with a spot among the high scorers.
- The State Department rose in the rankings after poor performance last year, with the gain largely attributable to the US State Department making its first publications to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) this year.
- PEPFAR is another bright spot, having also published to IATI for the first time, and with good coverage and quality.
Of course there’s room for improvement—most of State’s data is missing the most basic project information, like dates and titles, essential to making the aid data useful to partner country audiences—but in the spirit of positive reinforcement, State deserves credit for going in the right direction. At this rate, however, they won’t reach the finish line of IATI implementation before the clock runs out in 2015.
While we’re recognizing incremental progress at the State Department, we must not lose sight of the fact that State has been its own worst enemy, doing its level best to obstruct passage of the Foreign Aid Transparency Accountability Act (FATAA), which would help foreign aid agencies carry out the clear mandate for aid transparency. This is puzzling, given that the transparency mandate comes from no less authority than the President of the United States. With passage of the FATAA, Congress and the Administration will be pulling in the same direction on aid effectiveness. Perhaps State hasn’t yet made the critical connection between sharing timely, detailed information with partners around the world and the advancement of the US international development mission. Time is getting short for State to come around.
“The ATI is an important measure of donors’ commitments to greatly help make their aid transparent – which is something we have asked for (and we will continue asking for) again and again. If donors want to truly see the maximum value for their aid, they must walk the talk of transparency and accountability; with no any element of double standards in a true spirit of partnership…to achieve all the intended development results.” ~Dalitso Kubalasa, Malawi Economic Justice Network
As for USAID, the Aid Transparency Index has some good news, and some bad news. The bad news is that USAID fell in the rankings compared to 2013. Despite publishing a LOT of data, including IATI data, USAID is still struggling to join up different systems to put data in context and render it more useful.
However, the good news is really good—USAID has shown leadership in undertaking aid data pilot studies in three countries—Ghana, Zambia, and Bangladesh—to talk to people in partner governments, civil society, and their own mission staff colleagues, to learn more about how people are using the data and what tools they need to make aid data more useful. Further, in its 2014 Open Government Plan, USAID has committed to craft and publish a management plan for implementing IATI by the 2015 deadline. These steps reaffirm that USAID gets it and is working hard to make real gains on implementing the aid transparency agenda.
Finally, there is one really great piece of news in the 2014 ATI. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard, the main tool used by the US government to publish foreign aid data, will start using the IATI framework, with some custom add-ons, as the basis for publishing all US aid data – instead of the Dashboard-specific standard in use now. This will save invaluable time and effort that has previously been spent converting data from Dashboard to IATI format, and will greatly improve the chances that the US will reach the deadline of IATI implementation by 2015.
The rankings are out. Just 15 months to the deadline. Time to get to work!