Politics of Poverty

White House doubles down on open aid data

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New US action plan outlines progress yet to be made on sharing aid data—and ensuring citizens can use it.

David Saldivar is a Policy and Advocacy Advisor on Oxfam America’s Aid Effectiveness team. 

Wordle: http://bit.ly/1bAVT2W
Wordle: http://bit.ly/1bAVT2W

The White House released its updated US National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) last week. The new plan is important because it demonstrates President Obama’s resolve to keep pushing to share more data about where and how the US invests it aid dollars—even in the face of technical and bureaucratic obstacles. This is a big accomplishment, given that only a few weeks ago, in the throes of the government shutdown, it wasn’t clear that the Obama Administration would include aid transparency in their new plan at all.

Things weren’t looking good back in September. Oxfam and our colleagues were eagerly anticipating further consultations with policy makers on new commitments that would extend US leadership on aid transparency going in to the OGP Summit. By the end of September, we had heard little response. It was starting to look like an ambitious update to the US National Action Plan for the OGP would become a casualty of the temporary halt in government services.

When we finally caught wind of what our US government counterparts were planning, we were concerned. The word was that USG would continue to reach for the goals set in the old plan in the new plan. Not much of a plan. As the OGP Summit convened in London at the end of October, it was unclear whether the new US plan would even mention aid transparency.

Fast forward to last Friday. The newly-released action plan shows substantial progress on aid transparency. It includes:

  • a new interim benchmark for six specific agencies to publish foreign aid data in 2014;
  • a commitment to “add or expand detailed, timely, and high-quality” data published to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard; and
  • a commitment to stay engaged with civil society and the public about the accessibility and usefulness of the data.

The new plan nicely complements the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s top ranking achievement in Publish What You Fund‘s 2013 Aid Transparency Index released in October. The White House team guiding and coordinating open data policy has shown they’re willing to listen to the aid transparency community, which is good for the cause of open government, described by President Obama as “the essence of democracy.”

Now that we have the new plan, we’re eager for the action. We’re pleased to see the Open Government Partnership is evolving into a significant venue for advancing the transparency agenda worldwide. As the MCC noted during a town hall meeting yesterday, the US government is looking to partner countries to show, not tell, their commitment to open government through their engagement in the OGP process. The policy guidance on aid transparency issued by the White House under the last action plan calls for an interagency review of progress on opening up aid information in 2014. With a new plan, new goals, moving quickly towards a new year, it’s a great time for the other US foreign assistance agencies to follow MCC’s lead and take action to fulfill US commitments to greater transparency in foreign aid.

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