Slow and Steady Dashboard Progress, but How to Win the Race?

July 26, 2012
This is a joint post with Will McKitterick.The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department have added FY2009-FY2011 budget data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. The dashboard aims to capture all US foreign aid spending from across twenty-some different US agencies. There's a long way to go before all the information is included, but the dashboard--and the latest updates from State and USAID plus previous contributions from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)--are important steps in the right direction. Can Congress or crowdsourcing help get to the finish line?The dashboard is designed to include all US foreign assistance data and break it down by country, sector, initiative and agency in a user-friendly format. While it's always a bit of a shock to realize this information doesn't already exist, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard is a welcome tool to improve foreign aid transparency. And the Obama administration deserves applause for getting the tool out there early, even if it's not yet complete (and hats off to the unsung heros who designed the website and entered the data).

You'll note that the latest update from State and USAID is only for FY2009-FY2011 and is missing State's obligation and spent data. But it's a start, and one the administration says will help them report to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) (i.e., not just the American part), a promise made in November 2011.The big questions around the dashboard are: 1) how to encourage the other twenty-some US government agencies to report their data, and 2) how to ensure the dashboard, which is useful for Republican and Democratic policymakers alike, lasts beyond the current administration. Some members of Congress are trying to tackle both of these questions with new legislation that would make the dashboard permanent. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Howard Berman (D-CA) have introduced a bill on the House side that has 54 co-sponsors. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has introduced the companion bill on the Senate side. The GovTrack website, however, gives the legislation a mere 7 percent chance of passing. So other ideas are needed. Could this be an area where USAID's innovative use of crowdsourcing to clean, scrub and enter Development Credit Authority data could be applied?


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