The Administration’s proposed skinny budget zeroes out the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the US government’s development finance institution (DFI). There are multiple reasons why shuttering OPIC would cost US taxpayers, hurt American businesses, and harm markets abroad. Here’s another reason to like OPIC: it’s one of the most publicly accountable DFIs out there.
OPIC has stepped up big time on transparency
When we last took stock comparing DFI transparency, OPIC came out near the top. Since then, OPIC has taken two more steps to improve data availability and accessibility.
For the first time, OPIC released a downloadable Excel file with detail on its $21.5 billion portfolio. This dataset includes previously unavailable project-level data on development impact category, labor category, and the current level of exposure.
OPIC also released its first set of transaction-level data on ForeignAssistance.gov, the US government’s main online transparency tool for foreign assistance. The inclusion of OPIC allows a much more complete picture of how the US invests in developing countries.
Who cares about OPIC transparency?
We’ve long pushed OPIC to release more data, and we’re not the only ones. Many of the critics of OPIC use hyperbole and cherry-pick projects, rather than taking a look at OPIC’s portfolio as a whole. Transparency is crucial to a nuanced understanding of OPIC’s actual operations and real-world impact. For example, using OPIC’s data allowed CGD to investigate whether OPIC’s portfolio can be considered corporate welfare (no), whether OPIC’s portfolio is focused on the private sector’s major constraints (yes), and whether OPIC is working principally in low-income countries (they could do better).
As positive as these new steps are, we’d like OPIC to open the vault further. For instance, OPIC should release project-level data from its development matrix scoring system, which would allow the public to better understand what specific effects OPIC projects are expected to have. Additionally, OPIC’s data is still annoyingly piecemeal—some data is still locked up in project summaries or annual reports, while other data is in the new downloadable Excel file. To overcome this mess, we were forced to create the OPIC Scraped Portfolio, recently updated with several new categories and $3.7 billion in 2016 commitments from the 2016 Annual Report.
Kudos to OPIC for its efforts to remain a leader among bilateral DFIs in transparency and accountability. We hope Congress and the administration will take advantage of OPIC’s laudable commitment to transparency to understand this small, but mighty agency.
The OPIC Scraped Database has been updated with information on OPIC’s 2016 commitments and new data for projects currently in OPIC’s portfolio including exposure/maximum contingent liability as of October 2016, developmental impact category, and labor category.