Congress Seeks to Open the Books on Foreign Aid

By Laura Rusu

Washington, DC  – International relief and development organization Oxfam America praised the introduction of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 introduced by Representatives Judge Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and its’ companion bill in the Senate introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Oxfam America urged members of Congress to quickly pass the bipartisan bill, which will ensure American tax dollars do a better job of helping fight global poverty.           

“Transparency is the lowest hanging fruit on the aid reform tree,” said Gregory Adams, Oxfam America’s director of aid effectiveness.  “While the US government has this data, and American taxpayers and people in poor countries need it, President Obama has yet to release it. This legislation will hold the Administration’s feet to the fire, so that they follow through on the President’s promise to open the books on US foreign aid.” 

Under current law, it is too hard for American taxpayers and people in recipient countries to see where aid dollars are going and how well they are being spent. Global poverty is a challenge to America’s national interest and values; yet the US government is only one piece of the puzzle. Greater transparency and accountability for results helps people in developing countries do more to lead their own development, and use US help more effectively to solve poverty challenges.

“The Obama Administration and USAID under Raj Shah have been leaders in making aid more transparent and accountable,” said Adams. “The Administration’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard, for example, is a real breakthrough for transparency; likewise, USAID’s cutting-edge Monitoring & Evaluation policy promises to make US aid dollars deliver better results.  But promises of real numbers in other agencies have not been delivered on.”

US aid efforts are Balkanized across at least 22 different agencies, and while some US government agencies, like the MCC and USAID, have been taking bold steps to make aid more effective and accountable,  shockingly little data is currently available. Agencies like the State Department and Pentagon rank 46th and 56th on the leading international ranking of donor transparency, leaving huge information gaps that breed confusion and distrust.

“In these times of fiscal constraints, we must ensure that every cent of taxpayer dollars spent on foreign aid is delivering results in the fight against global poverty,” continued Adams. “Publicly available public information on how taxpayer dollars are being spent is key to making sure American generosity leads to real results for America and the world’s poor.”

The bill as written would rightly ensure that all US foreign assistance is evaluated for how well it serves its purpose. Oxfam feels that efforts to exempt any particular category of assistance from monitoring and evaluation will make that assistance less accountable to American taxpayers and recipient countries.  Oxfam urges Congress to protect the principle that this bill applies to all foreign assistance, regardless of source or purpose.

“It took great bipartisan effort to move this bill forward and we hope it sets a constructive precedent for further reform,” said Adams. “When people in developing countries know what the US is doing in their communities, they can take action themselves to amplify the results. And when the US government has better information and tools for measuring the impact of our programs, we can help make sure they are delivering better results for America and our partners.”

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