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Aid effectiveness, US global development policy, USAID, MCC
Casey Dunning was formerly a senior policy analyst for the US Development Policy Initiative at the Center for Global Development. Dunning previously worked as a senior policy analyst for the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Before that, in a previous position at CGD, she conducted the center’s analysis on the Millennium Challenge Corporation and researched the application of aid effectiveness principles within USAID, with a particular emphasis on country ownership, aid selectivity, and innovative aid-delivery models. She has worked on harmonizing gender violence and rule-of-law programs in Liberia with Emory University’s Institute for Developing Nations, and at the Carter Center and the International Rescue Committee. Dunning graduated from Emory University with a specialization in international political economy and has also completed studies at Oxford University and Trinity College, Dublin. She holds a masters degree in public policy from George Washington University.
The final piece of the puzzle is in place for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last Friday, March 11, the United Nations Statistical Commission’s Interagency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) agreed on 230 individual indicators to monitor the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs. We now have a complete picture of the SDG agenda for the next 15 years, right?
The IAEG-SDGs was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It could either put forth a set of indicators that would credibly cover all 169 targets, or put forth a set of indicators with sound methodologies and significant country coverage. It chose the former option. This means that roughly half of the 230 indicators lack acceptable country coverage, agreed-upon methodologies, or both.
In the long run, this strategy could make sense. Over the next 15 years, new technologies will allow for better and more complete data collection methods and measurement. In recognition of this, the IAEG-SDGs intends to regularly update and refine the indicators as they evolve.
But what about right now? The world is already 75 days into implementing the SDGs and as many as half of the indicators are not yet ready for primetime. And that is a generous estimate. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has created a preliminary SDG Index and SDG Dashboard using only indicators with significant country coverage, technically sound methodologies, and frequent updates. An application of this criteria left the SDSN with 39 viable indicators.
Adopting so many indicators — viable and otherwise — could end up harming the larger SDG agenda to “Leave No One Behind.” This is because many of the countries for which little to no data exist are the very countries that require special attention from the global community to move the needle forward. Take, for example, indicator 1.1.1 on the proportion of the population below the international poverty line. Seventy-two of the 193 UN member states report no data for this indicator since at least 2000. Interestingly, these countries fall into three broad categories: 10 conflict or fragile states, 19 small-island nations, and 45 high-income countries. (Some countries fall into multiple categories.) This dearth of data points to potential problems for both the “Leave No One Behind” focus and the universality agenda.
Numerous groups both within the UN and without are focused on SDG implementation and the relevant data to monitor it. It’s one thing to identify the countries and targets for which we lack data; it’s quite another to get the systems in place to mark baselines and begin reporting on indicator progress. If the UN and its member states are prepared to advance an agenda with 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators, they must also be prepared to bring the same level of ambition and resolve to monitoring and implementation.
“Country ownership” has become a buzzword in the development community, but what does it really mean? A country ownership approach has multiple interpretations to different actors, within different sectors, and for different countries. It’s time to unpack this rhetoric and bring understanding and evidence to the catch phrase.
Enter new research from CGD. We, along with colleagues on the Rethink team, are mid-way into a year-long research project to examine how USAID and MCC define, operationalize, and implement country ownership principles – both in Washington, DC and in the field. From this agency-level perspective, we aim to explore how and when an ownership approach can be effective, and what tools and mechanisms each US agency has at its disposal to implement such an approach. Just as important, we’ll also look at what constraints inhibit USAID and MCC in their efforts to pursue locally-led development activities.
The research project has many exciting components. First and foremost, we’ve undertaken a full review of how USAID and MCC consider country ownership through all of their strategy documents, sector guidance, and agency policies. With an understanding of how each agency defines ownership at headquarters, we’ll take the research to the Mission and compact level. Global analysis will examine how agencies operate within each country and how varying country contexts can enable or inhibit ownership approaches from USAID and MCC.
To better understand potential gaps between policy and practice, our study will also include in-depth country case studies. Two of these case studies, undertaken in Liberia and El Salvador, have been completed. This element of the research has already shed light on how varied the approaches to country ownership are, both for US agencies and country counterparts.
For the purposes of this research, country ownership represents a set of principles and approaches by which local actors – governments, civil society, and the private sector – have a greater voice and hand in development activities. Varying ownership approaches can be categorized in three broad pillars: ownership of priorities (what development activities take place), ownership of implementation (who is accountable for a set of results), and ownership of resources (how development activities are funded).
Country ownership seems a good idea in theory, but the development community still has much work to do in proving the concept. We need evidence that shows how a country ownership approach works and why it might lead to more sustained development impact.
As CGD research builds this evidence base, we’ll regularly update this space with analysis, country observations, and research questions in advance of a final report. As we do so, we want to hear from you in the development community. How do you define country ownership? What are the questions we should be asking? Do you have insights into how and why a country ownership approach has succeeded or failed as a part of your work?
Stay tuned and stay engaged as we endeavor to increase the analysis and evidence around country-owned development models.
Data on Feed the Future's results are just becoming available, and there is strikingly little independent analysis of the program. While we cannot yet assess the impact on poverty alleviation or improved nutrition, we can assess how Feed the Future performs against its stated objective of offering a new, more effective approach to food security. The integrated agriculture and nutrition approach emphasizes increased selectivity in aid allocations along with country ownership and capacity building to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the initiative’s impacts. We find the initiative has led to an increase in the share of overall US assistance for agriculture and nutrition, and that the Obama administration has increasingly concentrated this aid in selected focus countries.
Ethiopia is facing one of the worst droughts in decades, a painful reminder that food security challenges remain despite low food prices globally. Feed the Future—the Obama Administration’s global food security initiative—has been supporting Ethiopia and 18 other focus countries with projects that aim to boost farmer productivity and improve nutrition. Since its launch in 2010, Feed the Future has invested $1 billion each year in these 19 focus countries, as well as in support for agricultural research and development and other cross-cutting activities that address food insecurity. How has the initiative performed in its first five years?
Given impact data is just beginning to become available, we take a preliminary cut at that question in a new CGD Policy Paper. Most poor people around the world live in rural areas and agriculture contributes significantly to their meager incomes. So we broadly agree with Feed the Future’s focus on strengthening agriculture and improving nutrition as key pathways to alleviate poverty and improve food security.
When the Obama administration unveiled Feed the Future, it promised the initiative would employ a new approach to global food security built on principles of aid effectiveness. The initiative has succeeded in targeting resources to 19 focus countries that have high levels of need, demonstrate commitment to strengthening their agricultural sectors, and score above average on several institutional quality measures for their income level. In addition, each focus country has a concrete Feed the Future strategy aligned with country priorities, improving odds that changes on the ground will stick.
But when it comes to prioritizing other key elements of aid effectiveness, particularly transparency and country ownership, the initiative has, so far, come up short. Data specific to the initiative remains limited, making it difficult to track how the money is being spent. And Feed the Future is below the USAID average of funds directed to local actors, despite early assurances of a strong push for broad country ownership. As a result, the initiative’s approach to delivering aid doesn’t appear as innovative as initially advertised.
With the aim of seeing Feed the Future build on and sustain early gains we offer six practical recommendations. If implemented, these recommendations would contribute to a strong and lasting US commitment to global food security informed by principles intended to improve both the quality of aid and its impact.
Recommendations for Congress
1. Authorize Feed the Future. This would sustain investments and keep agriculture in the development spotlight. And moving away from the whole-of-government approach and designating USAID to lead implementation would increase accountability for the initiative’s performance.
2. Use authorizing legislation to increase support for institution building in focus countries. Only a small share of investments are channeled through country systems. Giving agencies more flexibility to direct funding to local actors like governments, civil society, and private sector organizations would promote country ownership.
3. Authorize the continuation of GAFSP. As an important multilateral component of Feed the Future, GAFSP helps leverage resources from other donors. But better coordination is also needed in countries where both GAFSP and Feed the Future operate.
Recommendations for the administration
4. Feed the Future should not expand to new focus countries. The initiative is committed to rigorously evaluating its investments. But results from impact evaluations and cost-effectiveness studies are only just becoming available. For now, the initiative should focus on better understanding what types of interventions work (and do not) in current focus countries.
5. Feed the Future should explain what it is doing to sustain results. Considering the initiative’s budget is unlikely to grow and activities will not continue indefinitely, the initiative should report on how it is ensuring results will have long-term impact.
6. USAID should increase transparency of investments and their results. To paraphrase our colleague, you cannot monitor what you do not track and you cannot evaluate impact without a counterfactual. It is impossible to link US funding for agriculture and nutrition to specific Feed the Future activities. Tracking where investments are allocated is an essential first step in monitoring progress. We commend the initiative’s efforts to report annually on its progress. But as we have previously argued here, reporting impact data with a counterfactual helps understand the initiative’s contribution to reducing poverty and improving nutrition.
These practical recommendations would contribute to making Feed the Future a genuinely new approach to food security and poverty alleviation. We urge Congress and the administration to leverage this opportunity to include reforms that ensure Feed the Future delivers attributable impact going forward.
It’s that time of year again...CGD’s annual State of the Union Game Night! Please join us on January 12 for the 2016 State of Union address. We’ll be listening to hear President Obama’s plans for the global development agenda during his final year in office. And we'll be playing our famous development bingo during his remarks.
After almost four years and much fanfare, 193 nations agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their associated 169 targets at last September’s UN Summit. You’d probably then assume that we’re all set to start the SDG agenda on January 1, 2016. Not quite so fast. Arguably the most important part of the agenda – the indicators that will determine what we actually measure and how we judge progress – has yet to be decided.
The decision on SDG indicators is in the hands of the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG), a mix of UN statistical experts and member states. The IAEG-SDG have set themselves a March 2016 deadline to deliver a list of indicators to measure the SDG agenda. So where are we in the process?
Could there be over 200 SDG indicators?
The short answer is yes. After whittling down 1000+ indicator proposals to 226 potential options, the IAEG-SDG met in late October to further refine the potential list. As shown in the handy graphic below, the group managed to leave the meeting having tentatively agreed upon 161 indicators (color-coded green by the UN). This left 63 indicators that required further discussion or methodological improvements (color-coded as grey).
Public discussion is closed on the 161 indicators for which there is consensus. It won’t be a surprise that the goals with the largest proportion of agreed-upon indicators were ones like health, education, and gender equality. In fact, all 14 indicators for Goal 5 on empowering women and girls are coded as green, and 21 of 24 indicators for Goal 3 on health are agreed upon. (Incidentally, Goal 3 also has the largest number of potential indicators…by a long-shot.)
Right now, the indicator conversation is largely around the 63 indicators that require further discussion and refinement. We are in the midst of a public consultation period (through December 15) on these specific indicators, and the IAEG-SDG has helpfully asked member states and civil society to complete a survey that notes specific questions and needs the group has around these undecided indicators.
The problem with this cohort of potential indicators is that a week of consultations and the best data experts in the world won’t lead to a quick answer. Some indicators require major methodological advances and entire new data structures for collection and analysis. And these “grey” indicators aren’t all necessarily those issues for which measurement seems impossible. The indicator for target 1.4 to promote access to basic services is currently classified as grey due to a lack of agreement around what “basic services” constitutes.
It would be easy to write off the 63 indicators in favor of simply focusing on the 161 indicators for which there is agreement. (Indeed 161 indicators is already a vast number of indicators that countries will have to track annually.) However, the UN has noted that every target must have at least one indicator. There are currently 45 targets entirely defined by “grey” indicators, including three targets in Goal 1. That is 27 percent of the SDG agenda.
Why the rush to finalize SDG indicators?
To me the big question then becomes: why the rush? It took almost two years to agree on a final set of indicators for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered goals, targets, and potential indicators to the UN Assembly in September 2001 with a note that other indicators were to be decided. The UN finalized the MDG indicators in 2003 and even then added an additional 12 new indicators as late as 2008.
The IAEG-SDG intends to discuss the 63 “grey” indicators in a series of special sessions organized by theme. It would be a shame to hurry along these discussions in pursuit of an arbitrary deadline. The indicators are the beating heart of the SDG agenda. Without them, the agenda can’t come alive through implementation. But to rush along and instill a weak heart would also be a grave mistake.
Yesterday the US Senate voted to confirm Gayle Smith as USAID’s new administrator. Since the departure of Raj Shah in February 2015 almost 10 months ago, the agency has been without a permanent administrator. The vote ends a long confirmation process begun in April 2015 when President Obama nominated Smith for the post.
Despite the rapidly expiring clock on this administration, filling USAID’s top post is critical for both the agency and for US leadership in global crises and development efforts abroad. The Syrian refugee crisis shows no sign of abating, just last week Liberia found new Ebola cases, and 700 million people still live on less than $1.25 each day. In all of these challenges (among many others), USAID is the leading US actor for response, prevention, and results.
Smith will undoubtedly enter 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue with her own set of priorities and goals. Add to this list concerns from the US development community, global development practitioners, and researchers, and she’ll have a hefty to-do list to accomplish in some 416 days. (NB: I do realize that I’m adding to the chorus with this post.)
But a short amount of time does not have to mean diminished impact. The Senate confirmed former administrator Henrietta Fore (a member of CGD’s board of directors) on November 14, 2007, in the waning months of the Bush administration. With a roughly equivalent time as administrator, Fore accomplished an outsized amount including restoring unprecedented personnel capacity to the agency through the Development Leadership Initiative.
Thus, recognizing that prioritization is key for Smith, here are four goals on which she should focus in her tenure as USAID administrator:
Work with Congress to pass legislation on Power Africa and Feed the Future. Authorizing legislation around these two presidential initiatives would represent a bipartisan, sustained US commitment to global energy access and food security beyond the Obama administration. In addition to working with Congressional colleagues to pass these bills, Smith and the Agency as a whole must endeavor to show Congress and the American taxpayer the results and impact from these global efforts.
Institutionalize USAID Forward in agency operations. USAID Forward reforms represent the unsexy, but critical, advances that will ensure USAID has the capacities it needs to operate as the premier development agency of the United States. From policy and budget capacity to increased technical expertise to an emphasis on sustainability and transparency, USAID Forward encapsulates the reforms necessary for institutional success. But their longevity is by no means assured. Smith should seek to embed these practices within the operations, culture, and business practices of the agency. One concrete place to start is outcome indicators (rather than the 30 percent input metric) for USAID’s Local Solutions efforts to demonstrate how USAID is increasing country ownership and capacity.
Clarify USAID’s role in ending extreme poverty. USAID recently released an impressive Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty, but now it’s time to translate this vision into practice. Does this focus on ending extreme poverty mean that USAID will pull back from areas that don’t fall under this mandate? How will USAID bring its particular expertise to bear on what has become a global effort? Smith should concretize what the Vision means for USAID and how resources will be used differently to achieve the end of extreme poverty.
Represent USAID in the US response to global crises. USAID has been quietly and steadily leading the US response to varying crises around the world, from Ebola in West Africa to refugees fleeing Syria to famine in South Sudan. Lack of official leadership has no doubt hampered USAID’s ability to advocate policy and operational positions in interagency discussions. Smith should use her time as administrator to be a strong voice for USAID efforts around the world while further refining the agency’s ability to respond to and prevent global development crises.
Gayle Smith’s confirmation is a long time coming and a welcome shot of adrenaline for USAID in the final months of the Obama administration. There’s no lack of development crises and challenges facing Smith as USAID administrator; the trick will be choosing how and where to respond to ensure tangible results and progress during her time as the leader of USAID.
Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity. But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy. President Barack Obama's address to UN General Assembly (9/28/15)
Over the weekend the world heard much about the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), their soaring ambition, and what the world might look like in 2030 if (when?) we achieve them. President Obama followed the weekend SDG Summit with a Monday morning address to the UN General Assembly that further extolled what a world free of extreme poverty might look like.
Critics will call these words — and much of the expansive SDG agenda — simple rhetoric backed by no real policy or implementation plans. While this may be true for parts of the agenda, I’m happy to report that, for the United States, the work to end extreme poverty (EEP) has already begun in earnest.
Last week USAID, the world’s largest aid agency, released its Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty. That’s right, USAID (an agency not usually known for its foresight and strategic acumen) has already put forth its plan on how it intends to reorient itself to meet the call to end extreme poverty.
Even more exciting, there’s a lot to like in this Vision. The document:
Defines extreme poverty as “the inability to meet basic consumption needs on a sustainable basis.” The last part of this definition is critical as it defines extreme poverty beyond consumption to include assets. In other words, it’s not enough to move just above the poverty line; USAID must also work to ensure that those just above the line don’t fall back into extreme poverty and deprivation.
Lays out a theory of change directly tied to inclusive economic growth, strong institutions, and accountable governance. These drivers of ending extreme poverty provide the roadmap by which USAID will pursue this agenda. This theory of change also provides some clues into US priorities for SDG implementation, namely Goals 1, 8, and 16.
Emphasizes that this is NOT another initiative. Rather, this is a guiding principle that should be realized, to the furthest extent possible, through existing investments like Feed the Future, Power Africa, and the Global Development Lab. For example, instead of inventing new poverty diagnostics, the Agency will seek to tailor existing analytic tools at the Mission level to embed a greater focus on extreme poverty i.e. a constraints-to-growth analysis incorporates disaggregated analyses to focus on specific constraints for the extreme poor.
USAID has hailed this Vision as moving from the “what” to the “how” of ending extreme poverty. Arguably there is still much to be decided on the implementation front. In the report, USAID notes that it will issue operational guidance on integrating extreme poverty into USAID’s Program Cycle. This guidance will be incredibly important in operationalizing DC-based plans into Mission-level implementation.
Finally, USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty goes to great lengths to acknowledge the comparative advantage of the Agency in ending extreme poverty. Yet, it never spells out what the Agency’s comparative advantage actually is. This focus should determine where and how USAID directs its resources to end extreme poverty – so it’d be helpful to know.
Lingering questions aside, I’m heartened that USAID has spoken with action instead of words on the ending extreme poverty agenda. Over a year of consultations and analysis went into the creation of this Vision, and USAID has already assembled implementation teams for how the Vision will translate into practice. Kudos to USAID for leading on how it will define this critical part of the SDG agenda – now it’s time to lead the way on implementation.
This is one of a series of CGD blogs on tweaks to the SDG targets
Goal 16 has the dubious distinction of being the most catalytic goal for sustainable development…and the most difficult to measure. Lumping together targets on accountable institutions and stable societies, Goal 16 aspires to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” It’s hard to argue with anything this goal purports; the real question is how to appropriately target and measure Goal 16’s aims.
With ten targets and two means-of-implementation objectives, Goal 16 has the highest number of targets and the lowest number of means of implementation. Yet another sign that there is much to be done on this topic and little indication of how to do it.
To be truly transformative, the way forward for Goal 16 is through its associated indicators. Though few in number, practical governance and stability indicators exist and can operationalize the often vague and sweeping language in Goal 16’s targets.
Recognizing that negotiations are moving forward based on the Open Working Group’s goals and targets, what follows offers tightened target language and associated indicators, where feasible. I’ve only listed targets that might actually be taken on board by member states. That is, indicators that are officially collected, have full country coverage, and are appropriately updated.
Goal 16 Targets
16.1: By 2030, Significantly reduce all forms of violence and reduce the number of homicide and conflict-related deaths by [30%] related death rates everywhere.
o Indicator: Homicide and conflict-related deaths per 100,000 people
o While we have no common agreement on what “significant” means, this target offers a practical push forward in both recognizing the link between conflict and development and counting, at a disaggregated level, violent deaths. Right now, there is no official database that counts violent deaths by country (much less by age, gender, etc) so putting this indicator forth would go a long way in tracking violence globally.
16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
o This target offers a noble and worthy aspiration but will prove impossible to reach or measure. Data disaggregated by age from target 16.1 should offer a starting point for measuring violence against children.
16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.
o Again, this is a fine aspirational target, but no practical, rigorous indicators yet exist to appropriately measure (and contextualize) outcomes for this target. What’s more, some proposed indicators could engender perverse reporting incentives, ultimately diminishing the rule of law.
16.4: By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, and strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.
o Indicator: Percentage of legal persons and arrangements for which beneficial ownership information is not publicly available
o Indicator: Percentage of cross-border trade and investment relationships between jurisdictions for which there is no bilateral automatic exchange of tax information
o Indicator: Percentage of multinational businesses that do not report publicly on a country-by country basis
o This target packs a lot of practical aims into a single target. Negotiators should focus on financial flows and stolen assets, for which there are practical indicators, in this target and take out action on organized crime, for which there is not.
16.5: Substantially reduce the proportion of citizens who report paying bribes to government officials. corruption and bribery in all their forms
o Indicator: Percentage of population who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by these public officials, during the last 12 months
o Indicator: Percentage of businesses that paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by these public officials, during the last 12 months
o For this target, the key is to start small and rely on experience of corruption rather than perceptions of it. Again, the decision to “substantially reduce” rather than “reduce by X” is the right one as there is no definitive level at which “corruption” does or does not impact sustainable development.
16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
o Indicator: Actual primary expenditures per sector and revenues as a percentage of the original approved budget of the government
o This is a catch-all target that offers the ideal outcome with little indication of measurement or means of implementation. One concrete place to begin to judge this target, however, is budget transparency. Basic public data at the country and sub-national level of plans for spending versus actual spending would require effective institutions that allow citizens to hold them to account.
16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
o While aspirational and ambitious, this target is almost impossible to operationalize and measure globally.
16.8: Broaden and strengthen global institutional governance systems to better reflect shares of global GDP and population. the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance
o Indicator: Percentage of voting rights in international organizations of developing countries
o The link between participation in institutions of global governance and sustainable development outcomes is less clear than most of the other 168 targets in the proposed SDGs. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile endeavor to count and track the levels of participation of those countries traditionally under-represented in global entities.
16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including through birth registration.
o Indicator: Percentage of population over the age of 18 with well-defined, recognized legal identity
o Indicator: Percentage of children under age 5 whose birth is registered with a civil authority
o This target combines two very different aims – birth registration and legal identity. Because of the different strategies and means of implementation to make progress on these outcomes, it is imperative to have two indicators for this critical target.
16.10: Ensure public access to information, including publication of full-text government contracts, and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.
o Indicator: Percentage of actual government budget, procurement, revenues and natural resource concessions that are publicly available and easily accessible
o Indicator: Existence and implementation of a national law and/or constitutional guarantee on the right to information
o Indicator: Percentage of all government contracts (by value) available online, with privacy, commercial secrecy, and national security exceptions
o This target complements target 16.6 in calling for transparency and the public’s fundamental right to access information in the public domain. The target should propose a numerical target as opposed to the difficult-to-monitor “ensure.”
President Obama launched the opening salvo in the FY2015 budget process with his recently released request, and while some of his foreign assistance proposals seem destined to go the way of the cutting room floor, you certainly can’t fault the request for having a specific point of view.
The FY2015 international affairs budget request is edgy (a word I’ve never used to describe a budget request) in what it chooses to prioritize and push for, given basically flat funding. Indeed the $50 billion request is actually 1 percent below enacted FY2014 levels due to a downsized Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The base International Affairs FY2015 request stands at $44.1 billion with an additional $5.9 billion for the OCO account.
Here are the priorities, highlights, and surprising reversals that stand out the most. There are quite a few, hence the longer post.
Power Africa powers up. This is the first budget request since the launch of the Power Africa Initiative last June. President Obama wastes no time in seeking to advance this signature initiative, both rhetorically and monetarily. The only actual line item at this point is a $77 million USAID allocation for technical assistance, risk mitigation, and regulatory reforms. But the budget request draws on the resources of the MCC (see more on MCC’s budget request here), OPIC, Export-Import Bank, and USTDA – all of which see increased budgets. If the bipartisan support around the Electrify Africa Act is any indication, funding for expanded energy access in Africa stands a good chance of making it into a final FY2015 appropriations bill.
OCO decreased in $ and expanded in scope. The OCO request sees a $600 million decrease compared to FY2014 enacted levels. The President’s request also puts forth a big substantive shift by expanding its country scope. In the past, OCO was almost exclusively reserved for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. However, the FY2015 request devotes $1.5 billion for Syria and to support transitions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This shift away from a singular focus on the “Frontline States” represents a recognition that these three countries can no longer dominate US foreign policy interests.
Feed the Future lives on. With its contemporary cohorts dead (Global Health Initiative) or under-resourced (Global Climate Change Initiative), the Feed the Future Initiative stands out in the FY2015 budget request with a $1 billion allocation, roughly 5 percent higher than in FY2013. The multi-year Feed the Future effort is due to wrap up in 2015 (at least for the first phase), and the budget request aims to ensure the initiative finishes strong.
Aid for humanitarian efforts in Syria is up; aid for efforts everywhere else down. The FY2015 budget request singles out humanitarian efforts in and around Syria to the tune of $1.1 billion. (And this doesn’t include additional aid for opposition groups and transition funding in Syria). At the same time, other humanitarian assistance accounts get slashed by over $1.5 billion, with the Migration and Refugee Assistance account getting hit the hardest (a 33 percent cut). Due to large carryover funds, this cut shouldn’t mean a direct hit for humanitarian assistance, but expect some scrambling if any new crises strike.
Global Health is no longer a sacred cow. For the first time since 2000, the funding request for global health programs has decreased. This year’s global health request still stands at a mighty $8.1 billion (a full 18 percent of the base budget request). But, this level represents a 4.6 percent drop compared to enacted levels last year.
The aid spotlight swings to Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan in the dark. Aid to Afghanistan grew in this year’s budget request as compared to FY2014 appropriations, increasing 4 percent to $1.4 billion. This increase stands in stark contrast to the 44 percent reduction in aid to Pakistan. This near halving comes as a result of the conclusion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill and the availability of sizeable carry-over funds. Yet, the reduction sends a worrying signal at a time when the US and Pakistani governments are in the midst of a successful Strategic Dialogue process.
USAID operating expenses, ever the unsexy line item, get a needed boost. The FY2015 budget request proposes a 21.4 percent increase to USAID OE after a painful FY2014 cut. OE funds are necessary in providing adequate levels of personnel to implement, manage, and monitor programs around the world while giving USAID the ability to lead Feed the Future, robustly contribute to Power Africa, and institutionalize its USAID Forward reforms.
USAID’s Global Development Lab given funding to experiment. Meant to be a legacy of Administrator Raj Shah, the newly founded Global Development Lab is funded at $146.3 million in the budget request. The Lab is born out of a merger of two offices (and their resources): the IDEA office and the Office of Science and Technology. Administrator Shah is due to officially launch the Lab in late March so details are still sparse, but the new entity aligns with the budget request’s emphasis on innovation, technology, and the modernization of development.
Multilateral institutions get much-need attention. FY 2015 looks to be a catch-up and consolidation year as funding requests are up slightly for the regional development banks, multilateral debt relief programs, and most of the environmental trust funds. The request also offers the first official announcement of the US pledge to IDA-17 and includes funding for the long-delayed IMF quota reform package, which the administration is separately seeking to move more quickly in an emergency Ukraine assistance package.
Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative makes a big splash, and will most certainly drown. This new initiative – clocking in at $56 billion, with half for defense and half for non-defense programs – is a veritable grab bag of funding allocations. Less than $1 billion is meant for international affairs programs, but these allocations are directed to multiple programs including the MCC, GAFSP, the Global Fund, Feed the Future, USAID’s Global Development Lab, maternal and child health, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. While the extra allocations would no doubt be welcome additions to these entities, the chances of this initiative making its way through Congress are slim to none.
The budget request does an admirable job of honing in on key initiatives and programs that President Obama sees as transformative in power and scope. It also includes a scaled-back but important development-related reform – a proposal to make food aid more flexible, allowing this assistance to reach an additional two million people each year. Stay tuned to the Rethink blog for updates on how each of these initiatives fare as the FY2015 appropriations process gets underway on the Hill.
For a detailed breakdown of the FY2015 budget request including specific line-item changes, see USGLC’s excellent analysis here.
Note 9/19/2017: Good data is essential to measuring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. With the UN General Assembly currently underway in New York, let’s take a moment to review the status of the SDG indicators.
Our recent post pointed to the significant lack of data for the 230 indicators selected to measure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now we’re taking a deeper dive into the best indicators. These indicators—marked as Tier 1—have an established methodology and regularly produced data. Unfortunately, the ability to measure outcomes and results for even this subset of indicators continues to fall short.
The Interagency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG) classifies 97 of the 230 indicators (42 percent) as Tier 1. But despite this classification, even a cursory look at a Tier I indicator like indicator 1.1.1 (percentage of the population living on less than $1.90 a day) uncovers serious gaps in data. Indeed 37 percent of UN member states have reported no data for this indicator since 2000, and this includes both low-income countries like Zimbabwe and donor countries like the United States.
Intrigued (and perhaps a bit concerned), we decided to analyze Tier 1 indicators to better understand what the IAEG-SDG means by “regularly produced” data. Given the lack of data for 1.1.1—the leading indicator behind the SDGs’ call to “Leave No One Behind”—many more critical data points could be missing.
A quick note on how we did it. To evaluate data availability of Tier 1 indicators, we explored two dimensions: country coverage and frequency. Both are critical to data availability. For the purpose of this analysis, we define country coverage as the percentage of 193 UN member states with at least one data point available between 2000 and 2015. Data frequency refers to the average number of data points available between 2000 and 2015 for the countries with at least one data point. Using these parameters, maximum data availability would be 100 percent country coverage with a frequency of 15.93 data points (accounting for the creation of new countries, including South Sudan, Montenegro, and East Timor, since 2000). Our analysis only covers the 72 indicators for which there is publicly accessible, trackable data. Full data table, including links to the indicators, available here.[i]
Now on to the good stuff.
Assessing Tier 1 Indicators on Country Coverage and Data Frequency
We discovered a wide range of data availability exists with some clear areas for improvement. Here are a few Tier 1 takeaways:
Country coverage for Tier 1 indicators is pretty good. The majority of indicators (60 out of 72) cover more than 50 percent of countries. Some have limited geographic scope, like 3.3.3 (which refers to malaria incidence), so 100 percent country coverage should not be expected
Data frequency is highly uneven. Indicators tend to have either annual data or only one data point in 16 years. 10 indicators have only one data point since 2000 for countries with available data. While this sets a baseline, it makes it impossible to track historical progress. On the other hand, 23 indicators have 14 or more data points available over the same period, implying that data are collected and reported every year.
Some indicators are real superstars… Indicators with the highest data availability include 3.2.1 (under-five mortality rate) and 15.1.1 (forest area as a proportion of total land area), for which data are available every year from 2000 to 2015 in almost all countries. In addition, 17.8.1 (proportion of individuals using the Internet) was the only indicator to have 100 percent country coverage.
… while others are stinkers. Data exist for only 31 countries for indicator 4.c.1 (which relates to the proportion of teachers who have received at least the minimum organized teacher training). Other indicators are severely lacking in terms of survey frequency. In particular, data indicators sourced from UNICEF (5.3.1, 5.3.2, 8.7.1, and 16.9.1) all have only one available indicator for every country.
Informing Better Data Collection and Challenges Ahead
Our analysis also points to specific goals where UN agencies and countries should focus on improving data collection. For example, Tier 1 indicators for goals 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure) and 17 (partnerships for the goals) mostly score relatively highly on both coverage and frequency. Other goals don’t fare as well, with low levels of country coverage and sparing amounts of data for covered countries, like goal 1 (end poverty) and goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities).
Additionally, the low frequency of certain indicators may show how difficult certain data are to collect. It simply may not be possible, or desirable, to have annual poverty surveys to measure 1.1.1. In these cases, alternative tools should be designed to monitor progress with a requirement for more frequent data collection.
This analysis is intended to offer a more nuanced understanding of data gaps in the SDGs. As the UN, member countries, and civil organizations work to increase statistical capacity and mark baselines, it is necessary to have a clear picture of what official sources can and cannot offer global, regional, and national monitoring platforms. Only then can policymakers have a better sense of where SDG implementation might reasonably tracked and where other data sources and tools might prove useful.
Tier I Indicator Metadata
[i] Only 75 of the 97 Tier I indicators have publicly accessible data (including indicators that needed to be calculated). Along with three mixed-Tier indicators, we were able to track country coverage and data frequency for 72 indicators. Six of the Tier I indicators had accessible data but were not necessarily trackable (like 12.4.1: Number of parties to international multilateral environmental agreements on hazardous waste, and other chemicals that meet their commitments and obligations in transmitting information as required by each relevant agreement).
CGD and the Brookings Institution recently released the third edition of the Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA), a joint venture that measures donor performance across a series of aid quality indicators to encourage governments, institutions, and agencies to disburse more effective, transparent, and efficient assistance. QuODA uses four dimensions of aid quality assessment: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing burden, and transparency and learning.
QuODA assesses the quality of aid against agreed upon priorities and best practices, but it faces the considerable challenge of comparing metrics across agencies with a wide range of structural and operational differences. So while QuODA provides an important starting point for a discussion of aid quality, it can’t offer each agency a customized recipe for reform.
QuODA covers 14 US government agencies that deliver development assistance. Here’s a closer analysis into how two of them—the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—stack up.
USAID in QuODA: Better than Expected
In this third edition of QuODA, USAID demonstrates the positive effects of a strong internal push for reform. Since 2010, USAID has implemented USAID Forward, a reform agenda designed to return policy and budgeting expertise to the agency, expand scientific and innovative capacity, and build and utilize local systems, among other reforms. Compared to the first edition of QuODA (which relied on 2008 data), USAID has improved relative to the aid system as a whole on two dimensions of aid quality measured by QuODA: fostering institutions and transparency and learning.
While USAID logs average scores in this year’s assessment on transparency & learning and reducing burden, the agency performs better than other aid agencies on fostering institutions. This dimension of aid quality judges an agency’s use of recipient country systems and share of aid recorded in recipient budgets, for example. This high score no doubt reflects recent efforts to channel more USAID program funds to partner governments and local civil society. Indeed even as overall funding for the agency decreased by 5 percent, USAID managed to increase its spending to local entities by 18 percent from FY2012 to FY2013. The agency is also working to ensure that every country in which it operates has a jointly-developed Country Development Cooperation Strategy that outlines how USAID engagement will further recipient country priorities in the long term.
However, it’s not all good (or at least average) news for USAID. The agency scores below average in QuODA’s maximizing efficiency dimension, which includes an examination of USAID’s share of allocation to well-governed countries and focus/specialization by recipient country. Here, you could argue, USAID gets penalized for actions beyond its control. The aid landscape of the United States is such that USAID is the agency with the remit to handle humanitarian efforts, deal with fragile and conflict-affected states, and play a key role in frontline states. USAID has major operations in poorly governed places like Afghanistan and the DRC, and USAID isn’t going to stop working in these places – nor should it when there’s a strong strategic and development interest.
USAID also gets knocked for lacking focus. Again, the agency is tasked with being the US development presence in the most difficult of places across a range of sectors, based on identified needs within a country. This operational rationale will always run counter for calls to a singular focus in well-governed places. So, USAID should applaud itself for making great strides in targeting its aid to foster local institutions and performing reasonably well on reducing the burden to local entities and promoting transparency and learning. Given USAID’s current remit and role within the US development apparatus, it will have a hard time improving its score in the maximizing efficiency dimension. One place to start would be to reduce the number of countries in which it operates and push for a focus on things the agency does really well like humanitarian aid and social sector programs in health, education, and water.
MCC in QuODA: An Aid Effectiveness Model in Practice
It’s not surprising that MCC performs above the USG and global average on most (11 of 15) of the agency-level QuODA indicators. After all, MCC’s model and practices are based on many of the aid effectiveness principles the index seeks to measure. For instance, MCC funds only a limited number of relatively well-governed countries, uses open international procurements, pursues country-led strategies, and commits to a high level of transparency.
Interestingly, a look at the handful of QuODA indicators on which MCC performs less well (below average) shows that, in many cases, low scores in one area may actually reflect good aid effectiveness practice in another. This suggests that it may not be possible for an individual agency to maximize all aspects of aid quality at once.
For instance, MCC gets relatively low marks on its share of allocation to poor countries. This might seem counterintuitive since, by law, the agency can only fund low or lower-middle income countries, but the income levels of MCC partners range widely within those boundaries. So while MCC does fund some of the lowest income countries in the world, its partners are not altogether concentrated at the lower end of the income distribution. This is largely because MCC was established to fund only countries that are relatively well-governed (it ranks 5th globally on the QuODA indicator of share of allocation to well-governed countries), and these countries are also not concentrated at low income levels. This suggests that it can be hard for countries to score well on both allocation to the poorest countries and allocation to well-governed countries (in fact, scores on these two QuODA indicators are negatively correlated at -0.6).
Another indicator on which MCC scores below average is focus/specialization by sector. For this measure, agencies are docked for funding lots of sectors rather than specializing in a few. The logic behind this is compelling (donor proliferation in a particular area can create inefficiencies and coordination problems). But part of the reason MCC has a relatively low score on this indicator is because it doesn’t pre-determine the sectors in which it will operate in a country. MCC’s model places high importance on country ownership and achieving results, so the agency’s investments in a given country are determined based on economic analysis and country-identified priorities. If MCC decided in advance to invest only in limited sectors, the agency could undermine these two pillars of its model.
Interestingly, MCC only registers average performance on the indicator measuring the share of aid to recipients’ top development priorities, ranking about the same as USAID. This result is rather different than my colleague, Ben Leo’s, findings that MCC does better, at least in Africa, at investing in things citizens say they want. So it raises some questions—like how well MCC’s process of working with a country government to identify priorities effectively captures citizens’ preferences for investment and whether the way the QuODA indicator is constructed fully captures the link between MCC investments and a country’s development priorities?
All in all, the main takeaway for MCC—that even many of the lower scores confirm—is that the agency does relatively well applying practices associated with aid quality and effectiveness to its operations, and that it should continue to strive to make the right tradeoffs when best practices in delivering quality aid conflict with one another.
Last week USAID held its second Frontiers in Development conference, a two-day smorgasbord of keynotes, panels, roundtables, and an Innovation Marketplace all focused on Ending Extreme Poverty. As the agenda can attest, USAID sought to explore its role (and that of foreign assistance, writ large) in ending extreme poverty from multiple angles. From ‘Can it be done?’ to ‘How will it be done?’ to ‘Who will do it?’, the notion of Ending Extreme Poverty received a 48-hour in-depth examination from some of global development’s leading thinkers and practitioners as over 600 members of the development community observed.
I applaud Frontiers for tackling tough questions directly related to ending extreme poverty, including inequality, fragility and instability, climate change, and the spread of Ebola. While I didn’t leave the conference certain USAID had the answers to ending extreme poverty as an agency, I did come away thinking it had at least asked the right questions and was pursuing this noble, and incredibly difficult, mission with eyes wide open.
Because ending extreme poverty looks to be a global vision around which the world will coalesce for the next 15 years through the post-2015 agenda, it’s encouraging that USAID is seeking to bring intellectual and policy firepower to what could easily become rhetoric with no real substance behind it.
Frontiers offered a substantive two days. Below are my additional takeaways, observations, and general points of interest. It should be noted that this list is completely subjective as I was not able to attend every session, not yet being able to be in two places at once.
The theme of ‘Ending Extreme Poverty’ pervaded every event. With 29 separate events and more than 86 speakers, I would have forgiven Frontiers for occasionally veering off-topic – but it didn’t. The conference maintained coherence in exploring multiple sectors, issues, and populations through the lens of extreme poverty.
It wasn’t only US voices doing the talking. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, former President John Kufuor of Ghana, Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, and Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam International (just to name a few) all spoke about country and context-specific approaches to ending extreme poverty.
Frontiers rightly focused on Africa. Some colleagues thought the conference should have had a more balanced global focus, but I disagree. If we’re talking about extreme poverty, that’s where the majority of the extreme poor will reside. What’s more, Sub-Saharan Africa receives the highest levels of USAID funding (by region). This is called focus, folks; we can’t call for it and then get miffed when everything isn’t included.
Peace and stability are integral to ending extreme poverty. From Secretary of State John Kerry to President Kikwete to former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, I was struck by how often and how stridently numerous speakers pointed to conflict as one of the greatest drivers of increased poverty. This is nothing new, per se, but it was instructive to hear the importance of stability and good governance emerge from various perspectives. My hope is that this bodes well for the inclusion of these issues in the post-2015 agenda.
The world doesn’t have the right tools to end extreme poverty…yet. In his address, Secretary Kerry noted that, “development tools have not kept up with a changing world…too many barriers still exist.” Likewise USAID Administrator Raj Shah declared the United States must “earn the right to lead every single day. And unless we seek to evolve and get better, many of our partners—including the countries we celebrate today—will simply look elsewhere for solutions.” The entire Frontiers conference seemed to be a starting answer to this challenge, with the Innovation Marketplace offering pioneering practical solutions and the many sessions offering new approaches and models for how the world might end extreme poverty.
USAID got one step closer to having a new administrator with Gayle Smith’s successful hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. For nearly 90 minutes, members of the Committee and Ms. Smith engaged in a refreshingly productive dialogue on Agency priorities, operations, and shortcomings.
It was great to see Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, and Senators Gardner, Menendez, Coons, Perdue, Murphy, and Markey attend the hearing and, even better, ask thoughtful questions about the Agency’s operations and its potential. There was also a strong signal from the Committee that, in a shrinking budgetary environment, USAID must be clear about its priorities moving forward and actively seek out partners of all ilk to advance development progress around the globe.
The nomination hearing touched on a range of issues. Below are my three main takeaways for USAID if Ms. Smith is confirmed as its next Administrator.
USAID will have a list of priorities…but that list is mighty long. Ms. Smith’s priorities for USAID include: achieving further results from Feed the Future, Power Africa, and maternal and child health programs; expanding USAID programs in democracy, rights, and governance; pushing the Agency to do more on human trafficking and corruption; working on the Administration’s ambitious development goals in Central America; seeing a successful transition in Afghanistan; continuing USAID’s work on humanitarian crises; solidifying food aid reform; and strengthening USAID as an institution. (I’ll pause and let you take a breath.) With less than 18 months and a budget that probably won’t be expanding anytime soon, this ambitious list seems untenable to execute successfully in its entirety.
No new initiatives! Ms. Smith made clear that USAID would not pursue new programs and initiatives under her tenure. Rather, she’d focus on institutionalizing ongoing programs like Power Africa, Feed the Future, and Local Solutions. This is a welcome bit of news for those both inside and outside the Agency still reeling from initiative whiplash.
Development is about more than aid. Both the Committee and Ms. Smith spent an impressive amount of hearing time focused on how aid can leverage other resource flows for better development impact. From discussions on increasing domestic resource mobilization to building trade capacity, from curbing illicit financial flows to removing constraints to private capital investment, the hearing sent a clear message that USAID’s future lies in leveraging and catalyzing other flows for development ends.
With a positive hearing under her belt, what’s next for Ms. Smith? Her nomination now goes to a vote by the Committee. If she is successfully voted out of Committee, her nomination will go for a vote before the full Senate. With the end of this Administration rapidly approaching and a robust agenda for USAID, here’s hoping the confirmation process continues its swift pace.
CGD's Casey Dunning, Charles Kenny, and Jonathan Karver recently wrote an analysis with the provocative title "Hating on the Hurdle," that offered constructive criticism of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) approach to penalizing corruption using a “hard hurdle.”
The paper elicited an engaged written response from Alicia Phillips Mandaville, managing director of development policy at the MCC, who later came to CGD for a roundtable discussion on the issue with staff and invited guests.
Here at CGD there’s nothing we like better than the opportunity to engage with policymakers directly. So I was delighted when Alicia accepted my invitation to join me, Charles, and Casey on the Wonkcast to share key ideas in the discussion with our listeners. You can listen to the full audio above.
My thanks to Aaron King for recording and editing this Wonkcast.
Imagine your employer mandated you wear a watch that operated with a ten-minute window of error. You would always know the time reasonably well but would have to count on the fact that you might be 10 minutes early, 10 minutes late, or right on time.
Now imagine if you got fired for being a minute late. You’d probably ask for a different watch. Or at a minimum, you’d request that your company not hold you to such a rigid target when they’d given you such a faulty piece of equipment.
That imprecise watch and its associated strict deadline offer an idea of what’s happening when the MCC says that, to be eligible for a compact, candidate countries must score in the top half of their income group on a measure of corruption. The MCC uses the Worldwide Governance Indicator’s control of corruption measure to make that calculation, but the people who construct that measure point out that it includes a degree of error.
In the best of circumstances, the indicator is a dim reflection of true levels of corruption. According to the control of corruption measure, countries could appear to be failing (a minute late in our analogy) when a more accurate measure would suggest they should have a passing grade (they’re actually five minutes early).
Our new analysis Hating on the Hurdle explores the MCC’s use of a hard hurdle for its control of corruption indicator and finds that this strict interpretation – a country must be above the median on the corruption indicator to be considered for eligibility – is doing a disservice to the MCC and its partner countries.
The report finds that the control of corruption indicator is, at best, a fuzzy measure of actual instances of corruption in given country; good performance on the indicator does not necessarily lead to development success, or even good use of aid resources; and it is incredibly difficult for countries to improve their score on the indicator despite changes to governance and policies.
Given these uncertainties with the control of corruption indicator, we recommend that the MCC take the following steps:
Drop the hard hurdle. The MCC should, of course, have a corruption indicator as a part of its scorecard, but it should not be subjected to a hard hurdle.
To the extent possible, base the MCC eligibility exercise on indicators that both respond to action and measure what they purport to measure. Potential measures could include sector-specific indicators related to a reduced impact of corruption, such as percentage of electricity generated that is paid for or surveyed bribes for health, police, and local government services.
Demonstrate the seriousness with which the MCC takes corruption by greater use of country-specific, actionable, general-governance indicators based on factors such as membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (where appropriate), meeting Open Government Partnership commitments, or publishing budget details.
Make the prevalence of corruption measurement across multiple current indicators explicit. All of the MCC’s scorecard indicators across the three categories are linked to corruption—some explicitly so—and countries are likely to score worse on them if corruption is acting as a serious constraint on development. In other words, the MCC is capturing levels of corruption in a country through more than just the control of corruption indicator.
And lest you think this is just a fun thought exercise on the limits of data, getting MCC use of the corruption indicator right has serious real-world consequences. The MCC board of directors recently elected to revoke compact eligibility for Sierra Leone and Benin, two countries in compact development, for failing to pass the control of corruption indicator. Benin was the median score and Sierra Leone was just behind it – in effect the best “failers.”
A country’s MCC eligibility status should not hinge solely upon an indicator that does not fully measure what it purports to measure and expressly contains levels of measurement error. It may take some time for the MCC to uncover a better corruption measure with wide country coverage and regular updates. But in the meantime, the MCC should consider doing what it can do with the stroke of a pen: dropping the corruption hard hurdle.