Progress: U.S. Aid Agencies Increase Transparency

 An annual index that grades international aid organizations and agencies based on transparency was published Oct. 1. Publish What You Fund’s 2012 Aid Transparency Index and U.S. Report Card compares several U.S. agencies that provide foreign aid. All of the U.S. agencies improved their scores, many considerably from last year. However, the agencies vary widely in their performance, and overall, the U.S. lags other major foreign aid donors.

The index calculates scores based on specific elements of information that agencies publish about their foreign aid activities, such as overall cost, audits, and evaluations. These scores are presented as percentages, with 100 percent representing essential transparency, according to international aid experts.

The U.S. agencies, with their FY 2012 foreign aid budgets and transparency scores, are listed below:

  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – foreign aid budget: $0.9 billion1, score: 70%
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State – combined foreign aid budget: $33.9 billion2, scores: 50% and 31%, respectively
  • The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – foreign aid budget: $6.6 billion3, score: 49%
  • The Department of the Treasury – foreign aid budget: $2.7 billion4, score: 44%
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) – foreign aid budget: $17 billion5, score: 24%

MCC was close to the top of the index, with a score of 70 percent, and the DOD was near the bottom, with a score of only 24 percent. Both agencies increased their scores compared to last year, when MCC was at 62 percent and DOD scored 14 percent.

Other agencies also made progress. USAID improved its score by 35 percentage points, rising to 50 percent this year. PEPFAR is at 49 percent this year compared to 34 percent last year. The Treasury made significant improvements, sending its score up 34 points from 10 percent to 44 percent, and the State Department's score is up, too, from 24 percent to 31 percent.

In 2011, the U.S. pledged in its Open Government Partnership action plan to make foreign aid more transparent, and the government is in the process of implementing that commitment (see update here). Next steps in implementation include guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on how agencies should publish their data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative's (IATI) global database.

Director of Publish What You Fund, David Hall-Matthews, said:

As the world’s largest and arguably most influential donor, the U.S. plays a critical role in increasing transparency in foreign assistance. Its decision to sign on to IATI last year was significant – but now it is time to implement.

The U.S. has the chance to be a leader in aid transparency. The benefits are enormous – better decision making by both donors and recipients, identification of waste or misuse of precious aid, reduction in reporting costs and efforts, and increased coordination and accountability.

Read more about the index.

2 USAID's entire foreign aid budget is not broken out from the Department of State foreign aid budget. See It appears that a breakdown of the budgets may be on the way on See

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