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Sarah Rose is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Her work, as part of the Center’s US Development Policy Initiative, focuses on US government aid effectiveness. Areas of research and analysis include the policies and operation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the use of evaluation and evidence to inform programming and policy, the implementation of country ownership principles, and the process of transitioning middle income countries from grant assistance to other development instruments.
Previously, Rose worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Mozambique as a specialist in strategic information and monitoring and evaluation. She also worked at MCC, focusing on the agency’s evidence-based country selection process. She holds a Masters degree in public policy and a BS in foreign service, both from Georgetown University.
MCC’s model has received much recognition. However, since the agency controls just a small portion of the US foreign assistance budget, it alone has not fulfilled — and cannot be expected to fulfill — the founding vision of transforming US foreign assistance policy. Partly in response to the recommendations stemming from the 2010 Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) on Global Development, the larger agencies, especially the US Agency for International Development (USAID), have commendably worked to incorporate many of the same principles included in MCC’s model. For the most part, however, those principles are applied to a still-limited portion of the overall US foreign assistance portfolio. The next US president should continue to support MCC as a separate institution and support efforts to more thoroughly extend the good practices promoted in MCC’s model throughout US foreign assistance in general.
Happily, in the last 25 years, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day has dropped by two-thirds. Most of this success is due to major global forces such as trade and cross-border labor mobility. And much of the credit goes to the governments and citizens of developing countries themselves for pursuing the policies that have enabled donor, private sector, and (increasingly) their own resources to translate into development outcomes. But development assistance—including US aid—has made important contributions.
We’re getting closer to knowing how the USG spends its foreign assistance dollars. Recently, the State Department announced its first release of foreign assistance data on the ForeignAssistance.gov website (also known as “The Dashboard”).
One of the key pillars of MCC’s model is that country ownership matters for results. In broad terms, the idea of country ownership is that donors’ engagement with developing countries should reflect the understanding that partner country governments, in consultation with key stakeholders, should lead the development and implementation of their own national strategies and that foreign aid should largely serve to strengthen recipients’ capacity to exercise this role.
Though the spirit of the proposal—a fundamental desire to make US foreign aid more effective—deserves widespread support, any plan to supersize MCC by drastically cutting or eliminating USAID is impractical and counterproductive for two overarching reasons. First, the characteristics that make MCC so appealing also limit its scalability. Making the agency significantly larger would compromise much of what makes it work as well as it does. Second, scaling back or phasing out USAID would eliminate several important functions of US foreign assistance that MCC is not designed nor well-suited to address.