July 13, 2022 marked the tenth anniversary of the Aid Transparency Index for Ansher Funding. This year’s 2022 index included 50 major global donors, including four US entities – the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Department of State (State), and the President’s Emergency. AIDS relief plan (PEPFAR). MCC, USAID, State and PEPFAR have been included in the index assessment since the first iteration in 2012, providing a rare opportunity to look back at a decade of performance.
The Index is the only independent global assessment of donor transparency in aid and development financing. It is the result of six months of extensive work to collect data, consult with stakeholders, including index donors, and evaluate data. The review included sampling approximately 13,000 documents and reviewing 147,310 projects with transactions totaling $221.7 billion. The end product is a donor ranking on a scale of 100-0, with categories ranging from “very good” to “very poor”.
US commitment to transparency
Legal and policy commitments to aid transparency by the United States have grown stronger over the past decade. In 2011, the United States formally joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) – a voluntary, multi-stakeholder effort to report aid information in accordance with the Open Data Standard. In 2016, Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA), which requires all agencies involved in providing US foreign assistance to report—at the activity level—at least on a quarterly basis to ForeignAssistance.gov. Through the BUILD Act of 2018, which created the US Corporation for International Development Finance, Congress made FATAA’s reporting requirements applicable to this new US development financial institution.
This strong commitment to robust reporting on US foreign assistance is critical given the global reach of US policy and programs. The world is facing an ongoing global pandemic, with disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations, and an unprecedented food crisis, greatly exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and resulting in large numbers of people facing starvation and starvation. The increasing effects of climate change are only exacerbating these problems. This has put already scarce resources under severe stress, underscoring the need to ensure effective investments with a clear vision of how each dollar is used to the maximum. Given the role of the United States as the world’s largest bilateral donor, we should expect the United States to lead in transparency.
The performance of US agencies
The performance of the United States on the index has been mixed, as it has been true in the past decade. MCC, which has been a consistently high performer, once again scored as Best US Agency and Best Bilateral Agency globally. After years of mixed performance, PEPFAR has shown a marked improvement, ranking second in the US, jumping nearly nine points from 2020. The USAID, which had a strong performance in 2020, lost ground, falling back 12 points. State, who in 2020 reached the “good” category for the first time, dropped five points and returned to “fair”.
As with previous indexes, the release of the Aid Transparency Index was accompanied by a global report as well as a US summary. The US brief summarizes performance, but its focus is on recommendations for areas for improvement for each US agency.
Some of the recommendations have been in place for a long time and show a persistent failure to improve.
- For example, the state’s basic project level information—titles, descriptions, and other basic information—has been a persistent problem. It has been a long time since the improvements in information fundamentals were addressed at the project level. Other core issues, including the publication of tenders and contracts, are the problems of the State Department, USAID, and PEPFAR.
- Performance information – such as ratings and outcome data – has lagged for most agencies, even though MCC information is of high quality.
- Local information—critical data for many users—needs improvement for USAID, State Department, and PEPFAR.
- Timing is an important component of data quality. USAID only publishes its information monthly, which is now the global standard. All four agencies in the past have posted on a monthly basis. Especially given the current global needs, this should be a requirement for all US agencies moving forward.
There was good news. A new indicator has been introduced in this indicator that allows to better define the relationship between financiers, implementers and coordinators. US agencies answered the call, with USAID, PEPAR and State among the top ten performers (the MCC has been exempted from this test for the 2022 index). I did well!
Finally, a shout out for the complete integration of the official USAID and State Department websites into one usable site. This effort has been years in the making, a year in which we poured a lot of ink. But the result is good for users and taxpayers, and we look forward to continued improvements in data usability at the project level and the facilitation of sharing with local actors about the data.
Agency Policy Roundtable
Brookings and Friends of Publish What You Fund hosted a joint policy meeting with all agencies for a deeper discussion of the evaluation. We do this in part because it is not clear that US agencies are cooperating in the release of the data. The session creates time and space to think not only about how best to improve the data but also about how to improve its accessibility for a range of stakeholders. This is even more exciting because the release of the index comes at a time when the IATI data set has reached a critical level of maturity and quality. We shared some of the innovative research that Publish What You Fund is doing, specifically on tracking funding for women’s equality and empowerment, as well as ideas for further using IATI data, including tracking local ownership, unpaid care, and climate finance. The EU launch of the indicator also included many very useful examples of how IATI data can be used to improve research and results. These examples speak of a range of opportunities for useful and rigorous research, all of which can lead to improved decision-making and efficient allocations and investments.
Sharing and using data
Good publishing is an important first milestone. But it is important that agencies actively use data and share information with stakeholders – especially local actors – with the aim of improving development outcomes. A helpful step in this direction was the addition of USG data to the IATI data display on Post USG Tab in ForeignAssistance.gov (previous iteration was not). The USG data add-on provides access to IATI’s data on assistance provided by all donors to a country.
Now that IATI data can be used for policy making, program management, research, and engagement with local stakeholders, the efforts of all donors to provide robust IATI data is a particularly worthwhile investment.