Politics of Poverty

Little fanfare, big impact: Why the aid transparency bill moving through Congress is a big deal

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From the cover of Oxfam’s third edition of Foreign Aid 101, a quick and easy guide that dispels the common myths around foreign aid to developing countries. Here community members in Sri Lanka rate NGOs in their response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Photo: Atul Loke / Panos for Oxfam America

After being passed by the US House of Representatives, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act now moves to the Senate.

David Saldivar is the Aid Effectiveness Policy and Advocacy Manager at Oxfam America.

The US House of Representatives scored a big win for effective foreign aid yesterday by passing the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (HR 3766).  It was a lovely way to wrap up a beautiful December day in Washington DC.  There’s a lot going on in Congress right now — I heard somebody utter the word “Cromnibus” the other day.  You may not be expecting to hear about bipartisan agreement on the Hill.  That’s why Oxfam and friends in the aid effectiveness community are thrilled to congratulate Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and House leadership for getting this done.

The bill that they passed yesterday is an important step in building on the reforms at USAID to make aid more responsive to local priorities and more effective in the hands of local leaders on the front lines of fighting poverty and building resilient, democratic societies.  To that end, the legislation ensures that the US will continue and expand publication of detailed, high-quality data on where US foreign aid investments are going and what results they are achieving.  USAID, the State Department, and other agencies with aid portfolios have made progress this year, getting more and better information onto the US aid transparency website, ForeignAssistance.gov.  The administration has shown it’s committed to keeping up progress on what matters most: improving data quality, and making sure the data gets used.  By passing this bill yesterday, the US House joins that commitment — and the bill’s mandate for robust, public evaluations of US foreign aid programs will help US taxpayers have confidence that US aid is being used wisely.
With the job well done in the House, attention now shifts to the Senate and the work of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), and leadership to bring this bill home.  As Tanzanian civil society leader Semkae Kilonzo put it, transparency of foreign aid is crucial to local efforts to ensure that aid is effective.  We’re confident that the Senate will step up and finish the job.

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