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The House was expected to vote on the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 3159) this week but didn't quite get to it before concluding business. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), requires standard monitoring and evaluation across all US foreign aid agencies and would make the Foreign Assistance Dashboard a lasting—and required—tool to track US aid spending. While legislators won’t get another chance to vote on it until after the Christmas holiday, here’s what it could mean if Congress approves the bill before the end of the year.

HR 3159 -- Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012

Sponsor: Ted Poe (R-Texas)

Official Title: A bill to direct the president, in consultation with the Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Department of Defense, to establish guidelines for United States foreign assistance programs, and for other purposes.

Cosponsors: 56 Total (28 Democrats, 28 Republicans)

Better M&E: USAID and the MCC are leading the way with new evaluation policies, but there is no standard for the more than twenty other agencies delivering foreign aid to monitor and evaluate their programs. To fix this, the bill requires the president to establish a set of uniform interagency guidelines with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans. It also establishes a clearinghouse for this information and makes evaluation reports accessible in a public database.

More Transparency: The administration set up the Foreign Assistance Dashboard as a one-stop-shop to share data on all US foreign aid spending. It also issued guidance on when and how agencies should report to the website. H.R. 3159 makes the Foreign Assistance Dashboard a permanent fixture, requiring all US foreign aid agencies to report quarterly updates to the online database. Interestingly, the bill doesn’t require security assistance to be reported to the dashboard (over $8 billion or roughly 17% of the 150 account in FY2011), but does require other aid data, including country assistance strategies, annual budget documents, congressional budget justifications and general budget reporting.

Why might the legislation be a good thing? For starters, it codifies some of the administration’s no-brainer aid reforms (better data on where aid is invested and the results). It would also be a big win for bipartisan aid efforts in Congress (with 28 Democrat and 28 Republican cosponsors in the House) and would signal a constructive partnership between the executive branch and Congress on aid reform—something that will be needed in the next Congress, too.

The House won’t pass the bill until next week at the earliest with only a few days left in the congressional calendar. Assuming this happens, the quickest path to make it law before the end of session would be for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to take on the House-approved version in full and move for a unanimous consent vote in the Senate. If this happens before January, the bill will become law. If not, the process starts all over again next year.