Congress apparently isn’t getting the data it wants from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC. That makes two of us. The House Appropriations Committee is now calling for OPIC to provide reporting on the volume and destination of all new loans, guarantees, and insurance transactions. The optimist in me sees this as a welcome sign that Congress is focusing more on OPIC’s strategic role within America’s development and foreign policy toolkit. It has long been an under-utilized, highly constrained, and under-appreciated agency. So, shedding more light on what it actually does is a good thing. But, here’s the problem: this report would be confidential, with only authorized Hill members and staff able to see its contents. Moreover, it would only cover OPIC’s inputs (e.g., financing volumes), not what it actually achieves with those resources. The results, not the inputs, are what really matter.
Granted, OPIC is already one of the most transparent development finance institutions in the world. It posts descriptions of all approved and pending transactions on its website. And OPIC publishes an annual policy report, which includes a lot of helpful information, such as data on how its overall portfolio has impacted developing countries and whether project sponsors have complied with OPIC’s environmental and social safeguards. Despite this, OPIC still has a long way to go.
Congress should consider steps to further improve OPIC’s transparency and accountability to US taxpayers. Specifically, this should include project-level information about OPIC’s results. Each year, the agency collects reams of data on all of its projects, like job creation, local procurement, and tax payments. Some of this cannot be released publicly due to commercial confidentiality issues. But, OPIC should find ways to publish as much disaggregated performance data as possible. This will enable Congress, researchers, and other interested parties to identify where OPIC performs well and where adjustments might be needed. Simply knowing where its money is going is not enough.
The Electrify Africa Act, which the House passed last year, called for ‘measurable development impact’ reporting at the project level. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to follow suit. If legislation is reintroduced this year, I hope the earlier transparency provisions will be part of any new package.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.