New Foreign Assistance Legislation Promotes Transparency and Accountability

October 14, 2011
This is a joint post with Will McKitterick. In this season of budget battles and extreme partisanship, seeing eye to eye on the Hill is a rare commodity. Nevertheless, in an unusual moment of bipartisan agreement, Members of Congress introduced a bill that takes two big steps towards making U.S. foreign assistance more transparent, accountable, and effective. Introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Howard Berman (D-CA), the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 3159) achieved strong bipartisan backing from 30 cosponsors in the House. The bill follows in the footsteps of reform recommendations offered by the administration in the PPD and QDDR, and legislation introduced the 111th Congress.[1] Simply put, H.R. 3159 seeks to eliminate ineffective aid programs and bolster those that work by strengthening the government’s foreign assistance monitoring and evaluation regime. In doing so,  it may also save the tax payer a pretty penny. The bill requires the president to establish two sets of long awaited reforms. Guidelines for all U.S. foreign assistance programs: Much like the evaluation policy framework released by USAID in 2011, H.R. 3159 requires the president – in consultation with the State, USAID, the MCC, and the DoD – to set up measureable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans that can be applied on a uniform basis to all U.S. foreign assistance programs, country assistance plans, and international and multilateral assistance programs receiving U.S. funds. An internet website to make publicly available, comprehensive, timely, comparable, and accessible information on U.S. foreign assistance programs: This is an extension of president Obama’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard initiative which is currently sorely lacking information from a majority of agencies that provide some type of foreign assistance. The bill calls for the creation of a website that centralizes public access to all foreign assistance analysis, data, project/program information and strategies. The information would be published on a detailed program-by-program and country-by-country basis and would include country assistance strategies, annual budget documents, congressional budget justifications, actual expenditures, reports, and evaluations. These reforms signal a reprioritization of monitoring and evaluation in U.S. foreign assistance. In the 1990s, after a round of deep budget cuts to foreign assistance, the U.S. lost its stature as a leader in analysis of aid effectiveness. Foreign assistance programs have since been operating without good information and analysis necessary to properly guide spending. If enacted, H.R. 3159 will help remarry evidence to resource allocations and spending to successful programs. More evaluations give better guidance on what works and what doesn’t and greater transparency makes programs and agencies more accountable to Congress and the American public. Ultimately, these steps mean greater savings in terms of shutting down ineffective programs and more efficiency in terms of focusing on areas where aid can be more effective. And it doesn’t hurt to shore up citizen’s support for foreign aid by providing data to prove their money is being spent well. The bipartisan composition of H.R. 3159’s co-sponsors signals agreement among Members of Congress that spending on foreign aid can stand the light of transparency.  It also signifies that there is support on both sides of the aisle for protecting and improving U.S. foreign assistance as a valuable tool of our nation’s foreign policy. So hats off to Representatives Poe and Berman for finding this small area of compromise. In this age of extreme political leanings, H.R. 3159 could be a rare win-win for budget cutters and aid supporters alike.

[1] S. 1524, the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act and H.3139, Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009. Neither bill was enacted.  Discourse:  Connie had a hand in writing S. 1524 that introduced many of the concepts included in the Poe-Berman bill.


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.