Transparency Shifts the Power in Foreign Aid

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Unlock Aid is a global coalition of leading innovators with solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Many coalitions and activists before us have put in the hard work to begin to shift the power in U.S. foreign aid. We are proud to stand with them and join those efforts.

Here’s why we’re calling on USAID to make more of its funding data publicly available:

First, transparency holds USAID accountable to the commitments it’s made to direct more resources to local and national organizations.

We envision a world where frontline organizations solving global development challenges can directly access resources from agencies like USAID. That’s why we support USAID Administrator Power’s pledge to direct at least 25 percent of USAID funding to local organizations by 2025. But we’re running out of time to meet the deadline. More public, routine, and transparent reporting on progress made against the 25 percent target, disaggregated by geography and sector, will serve as an essential accountability tool.

Second, more transparency ensures accountability in subcontracting.

Despite decades of well-intended reforms to shift foreign aid dollars out of the DC Beltway to higher-impact, smaller, local, and more diverse organizations, the vast majority of U.S. foreign aid still goes to just a handful of USAID’s largest legacy partners. The consequence is that subcontracting is therefore the only way that most groups can work with USAID. But local organizations and frontline innovators who don’t how to play the inside game of government contracting too often tell us the same stories:

  • Many larger contractors often promise to work with smaller, more innovative firms, and especially local organizations, in order to make their proposals to donors like USAID more attractive. But once they’ve won the award, the winning contractor cuts smaller players out of the work plan. 
  • Or, larger contractors often wait to subcontract work until the last year of a multi-year award. But by that time, they’ve cut the budget in half, changed the scope of work, and given the firm just a fraction of the time they need to deliver results. 

One Kenyan organization told us they had to close one of their offices and lay off staff as a result of these practices. Another told us, “If we don’t see changes soon, we’re out… We are so disenchanted with this sector. We are losing our ability to work in it.”

Requiring larger agency partners to disclose up-front the percent of funding they promised they’d sub-award to smaller partners (and especially local organizations) in order to win a large USAID grant or contract side-by-side with quarterly updates on what they actually subawarded would go a long way towards promoting accountability. It would also help smaller and especially local organizations identify which larger partners are the most likely to keep their word. 

Third, more transparency helps USAID explain to Congress and the American public why it’s essential they support the aid reform agenda.

Barring security and safety concerns, by making all USAID award data publicly available, including detailed budget information, work plans, and quarterly progress reports, USAID can help Congress and the American public better understand that working directly with local organizations and more nimble innovators is a far more cost-effective, higher-impact way to spend limited foreign aid dollars. Making more information publicly available – such as funding data to show the gap between countries’ needs side-by-side with what Congress appropriates – would also bolster the case to lawmakers that USAID needs more funding flexibility and the workforce to get more resources to the right places.

Take action now.

Last week, we co-signed an open letter to USAID to call on the agency to make more of its funding data publicly available, joining coalitions NEAR and CIVICUS and the government accountability group Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Dozens of other organizations have since signed on, too.

And now you can sign, either individually, on behalf of an organization, or both. Sign today!

Dear Administrator Power:

We need more U.S. foreign aid transparency.

We share your concern that too little foreign aid funding reaches local and national organizations that are best positioned to have a faster and more sustainable impact in USAID’s partner countries.

We believe you can be the disruptive leader who reforms USAID so that the U.S. invests in local innovators and market providers who can help us more rapidly achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Now is the time for bold action.

To start, you can immediately require more transparency at USAID. If the winners of large government grants and contracts publish both the percentage of the awards promised to subpartners (and especially local partners) — and what they actually disbursed, American taxpayers could see how much foreign aid actually reached targeted local communities – and how much of it went instead to pay for salaries, fringe benefits, and overhead in Washington, DC. Barring security and safety concerns, all USAID award data should be made publicly available, not just bits and pieces of it.

Transparency does not pick winners or losers. It puts a spotlight on organizations that honor their word to local communities and smaller, diverse, and truly local organizations, just as it serves as an important accountability tool for those that do not.

Thank you for your leadership on this important issue.


Unlock Aid
And dozens of other organizations in a list that grows by the day

Co-sign the letter. Add your name today:

Click here to see the open letter co-signed by CIVICUS, NEAR, Unlock Aid, POGO, and others.