CGD President Nancy Birdsall and Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution recently released the new QuODA assessments measuring the quality of donor assistance. The second edition is based on 2009 data and now provides two years of data by which to judge assistance across four dimensions: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing burden, and transparency and learning.
For a second year, the United States does poorly. It ranks in the bottom half of three of the dimensions, and scores worse than the previous year on two (maximizing efficiency and reducing burden). It improved its score modestly on the fostering institutions dimension and improved significantly on transparency and learning. The latter can be attributed to the new evaluation and learning matrix developed by USAID.
Other top donors perform better than the United States although not by large degrees in every dimension
These results are disheartening especially for those of us who have been advocating for reorienting U.S. programs around greater effectiveness and efficiency. Because of the time lag in data, it is possible that the U.S. is actually scoring much better but we won’t know for at least two more years. The considerable lag in the data is due to the OECD’s reporting of aid disbursements, which are collected at the end of one year and reported the next. With so many donors and the OECD embracing the call for greater transparency and accountability, it is a shame that more current data is not being reported.
However, one must ask whether the U.S. score will improve with more current data, or whether there is something more fundamental at work here. Despite the rhetoric, the administration has not seriously implemented many of its own recommendations in the President’s Policy Directive (PPD) and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).
If the administration takes seriously its own call for greater selectivity and focus, it is quite likely that this would be reflected in the dimension of maximizing efficiency. If the U.S. became a signatory of IATI, and, USAID improved its Dashboard system to meet IATI standards, the United States could be a leader on the transparency and learning dimension. If the United States truly embraced country ownership and improved its predictability of aid flows, there would be improvement in fostering institutions. These are not easy tasks, but three years into the administration that had promised so much, and one year after the PPD and QDDR studies were finished, it is clear that the focus needs to be turned to implementation.
Or, is there a more basic flaw in how the United States conceives and manages foreign assistance? Could the whole of government framework, by its decentralized approach across too many government agencies without clear leadership, prevent the kind of focus that is required to achieve greater effectiveness? Next year’s QuODA should provide some leverage in considering these questions.