10 Year Aid Transparency Index: How are things going in the US?

On July 13, 2022, the Publish What You Fund turned 10 years old. Aid Transparency Index. The 2022 index includes 50 of the world’s top donors this year, including four U.S. organizations – the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State (State Department), and the Office of Emergency Management US President. AIDS Care Plan (PEPFAR). MCC, USAID, the state and PEPFAR have been included in the Index since its first iteration in 2012, providing a rare look back over a decade of work.

The Index is the only independent global assessment of the transparency of donor aid and development financing. This is the result of six months of intensive data collection, consultation with stakeholders, including donors included in the Index, and data evaluation. The review included a selection of about 13,000 documents and a review of 147,310 projects with transactions totaling $221.7 billion. The final product is the donor rating. on a scale from 100 to 0, with categories ranging from “very good” to “very bad”.

US Commitment to Transparency

US legal and political commitments to aid transparency have strengthened over the past decade. In 2011, the United States formally joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a multi-stakeholder, voluntary initiative to report aid in accordance with an open data standard. In 2016, Congress passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA), which requires all agencies involved in the provision of U.S. foreign aid to report—at the performance level—at least quarterly. ForeignAssistance.gov. With the passage of the BUILD Act of 2018, which created the US Development Finance Corporation, Congress made FATAA’s reporting requirements applicable to this new US development finance institution.

This strong commitment to credible reporting of U.S. assistance to other countries is critical given the global reach of U.S. policies and programs. The world is facing an ongoing global pandemic with unequal impacts on vulnerable populations and an unprecedented food crisis, which has been greatly exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and left large numbers of people facing starvation and starvation. The growing impacts of climate change are only exacerbating these problems. This has placed a severe strain on already scarce resources, highlighting the need to ensure efficient investments with a clear vision of how to make the most of every dollar. Given the role of the US as the world’s largest bilateral donor, we should expect the US to lead the way in terms of transparency.

The work of US agencies

The US performance in the Index has been mixed, as it has been for the last decade. A consistently strong performer, MCC is once again the top US agency and the best bilateral agency in the world. After years of mixed results, PEPFAR has shown a significant improvement to number two in the US, up nearly nine points from 2020. USAID, which performed well in 2020, lost ground, down 12 points. The state that reached the “good” category for the first time in 2020 dropped five points and returned to the “fair” category.

As with past indices, the release of the Aid Transparency Index was accompanied by a global report as well as US letter. The US Brief summarizes activities but focuses on recommendations for improving the performance of each US agency.

Recommendations

Some of the recommendations have been in place for a long time and show steady failure to improve.

  • For example, state project-level basic information—titles, descriptions, and other basic information—has been a constant challenge. It is long past time to improve the basics of information at the project level. Other major issues, including the publication of tenders and contracts, are issues for the government, USAID, and PEPFAR.
  • Performance information, such as scores and results data, is late for most agencies, although MCC information is of high quality.
  • Subnational information—important data for many users—needs improvement for USAID, the state, and PEPFAR.
  • Timeliness is an important component of data quality. Only USAID publishes information on a monthly basis, which is now the norm around the world. All four agencies have published monthly in the past. Especially given current global needs, this should be a requirement for all US agencies moving forward.

Progress

There were good news. A new metric has been introduced to this Index to better identify relationships between sponsors, implementers and facilitators. US agencies responded to the call and USAID, PEPAR and the state ranked in the top 10 (MCC was exempted from this test for the 2022 index). Great job!

And finally, welcome to the completed merging of the two official USAID and state websites into one user-friendly website. This effort lasted for years, one in which we spilled a lot of ink. But the result is good for users and taxpayers, and we look forward to further improving the usability of data at the project level and facilitating communication with local actors about data.

Agency Policy Roundtable

Brookings and Friends Publish What You Fund held a joint policy meeting with all agencies to discuss the evaluation in more depth. We do this in part because it is not clear that US agencies are cooperating in releasing the data. The session creates time and space for reflection not only on how best to improve the data, but also on how to improve its accessibility to a range of stakeholders. This is even more interesting as the index is published at a time when the IATI data set has reached a critical level of maturity and quality. We shared some of the innovative research being done by Publish What You Fund, in particular on funding tracking equality and empowerment of womenas well as ideas for further use of IATI data, including local property tracking, unpaid careas well as climate finance. Launch of the index in the EU also contains some very useful examples of how IATI data is being used to improve research and results. These examples highlight a range of opportunities for useful and detailed research that can improve decision-making, distribution, and efficient investment.

Interaction and use of data

Good quality publishing is an important first milestone. But it is important that agencies proactively use data and engage with stakeholders on information, especially local actors, to improve development outcomes. A useful step in this direction was the addition of USG data to the IATI data presentation for Beyond USG tab on the ForeignAssistance.gov (this was not the case in the earlier iteration). Adding US government data provides access to IATI data on the assistance that all donors provide to the country.

Now that IATI data can be used for policy development, program management, research and engagement with local stakeholders, the efforts of all donors to provide reliable IATI data represent a particularly profitable investment.