This is a joint post with Will McKitterick.
US aid agencies are on an open data roll this month. On Monday, we applauded Treasury’s release of technical assistance program data in Excel and International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) formats. Yesterday, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) released more than 53,000 FY2013 financial transaction records on the US Foreign Assistance Dashboard, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) posted much of its open data catalog information in the IATI format on its website, too. All three agencies will likely see steady or higher marks in the 2013 Aid Transparency Index that comes out in October (but finished collecting data yesterday). Regardless, we're giving a huge “hooray” for the major boost in amount and detail of publicly-available US aid data and hope it spurs interesting analysis and ideas to better communicate and inform development policymaking and practice.
USAID’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard update includes the first three-quarters of FY2013 transaction data (June 30, 2013 is the most recent spending date). This is the first transaction data on the Dashboard which means users can search and visualize individual financial records for projects carried out by implementing partners. The data includes vendor, location and award title and is available in machine-readable and IATI formats. USAID is also the first and only US government agency to update new third-quarter obligation and expenditure data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. According to the US Foreign Assistance Dashboard team at the State Department, the volume and detail of new USAID data is a “significant milestone for US government foreign assistance transparency.” USAID administrator Rajiv Shah says the agency's commitment to transparency "has had a direct impact on the way we work every day." Shah says Kenyan farmers are already using USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network data to negotiate better crop prices.
MCC’s own open data catalog now includes much of its budget, country strategies and country-level activities in the IATI format on their website as well. This adds to MCC’s publicly available data on selection indicators, calculated economic rates of return, project performance and evaluation data as well as the financial data visible on the US Foreign Assistance Dashboard.
Our “hooray” is not just for the amount of new data available but also for the agencies (including State's Dashboard team) who spent limited resources (staff and money!) to work with difficult and often antiquated financial and data systems and overcome bureaucratic inertia to get data up and out in a common, modern format so that we are a few steps closer to having a comprehensive and detailed look at how US taxpayer dollars support foreign assistance around the globe. We've updated our own US Foreign Assistance Dashboard Tracker with the new information, however the overall rankings don't change.
We will always have a wish-list of what else we’d like to see—data from all 22 agencies and sub-prime vendor data, please!—but we also want to stop and acknowledge that the chunk of new data out this week is a really important contribution and signal that the administration is still working to fulfill an open government—and open aid data—vision.