By Laura Peterson, Taxpayers for Common Sense
In their ongoing battle to protect aid funding, foreign assistance advocates are fond of the “fix it first” approach: reform the spaghetti bowl of aid delivery systems in the US government, making aid more effective and therefore more able to prove its necessity to naysayers, the thinking goes.
Increasing aid transparency is a primary leg of that reform, and a new initiative aims to improve it. Last November, the United States joined 22 countries in signing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Launched in September 2008 by international development agencies frustrated by the lack of transparency in aid funding, IATI provides a universal data standard for publication of aid budget information and a central registry where users can quickly find government data.
Adopting a standard like this can be tough in the U.S., where multiple agencies outside the State Department provide foreign aid, from the Agriculture Department to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In fact, U.S. foreign assistance is currently administered by 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices. This aid facilitates exchanges with other countries, trains foreign troops, teachers and scientists, and provides health services, to name just a few aid-related activities.
In addition to signing up to IATI, President Obama also has created the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, and it provides a cautionary tale. The dashboard aims to incorporate standardized aid data from all federal agencies “receiving or implementing foreign assistance, humanitarian and/or development funds.” Fourteen months after it’s unveiling, the only agencies with data on the site to date are the State Department—including USAID—and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Most of the US’ diaspora of foreign assistance is excluded.
In theory, U.S. participation in IATI should demonstrate a high-level commitment to budget efficiency and transparency. But signing on to something doesn’t guarantee active participation. For IATI to work, even just within the US, it’s going to need much more comprehensive commitment than the Foreign Assistance Dashboard already on the books.