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This week, Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act and Millennium Challenge Act Modernization Act (H.R. 3445). Once signed, it will give MCC the long-awaited authority needed to pursue regional programming more effectively.
After over a year without top political leadership, MCC may soon have a new CEO. Sean Cairncross, the Trump administration’s nominee to take the helm of the agency, has his Senate hearing tomorrow—where we’ll get an early look at his vision for MCC.
This week, MCC edged one step closer to securing new authorities that would better position the agency to undertake regional programming. Similar provisions were included in fully five bills in the 114th Congress, but none made it over the finish line. Hopefully 2018 will be the year.
Next month, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s board of directors will meet to select the set of countries that will be eligible for the agency’s large-scale grant programs. One of the decisions on the table will be whether to continue the partnership with the Philippines. Over the last year and a half, questions have emerged about whether the Philippines continues to meet MCC’s good governance criteria. In one month, MCC and its board will have to answer those lingering questions.
Domestic revenue mobilization (DRM) seems set to be a priority area for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under Administrator Mark Green. The challenge has been in tracking US (and other donors’) support for DRM activities. While the data only covers projects in 2015 so far, it contributes to a better understanding of what US aid agencies are doing in the DRM space and where they are working. If the United States is looking to step up assistance in this area, it will be instructive to understand the landscape of current efforts.
The very same week that USAID and the Department of State submitted a joint redesign plan to the Office of Management and Budget, the coauthors of four recent reform proposals packed the CGD stage for a timely debate. Fragmentation, inclusive economic growth, humanitarian assistance and fragile states, global health, and country graduation were a few of the big questions that panel members grappled with as they authored their reports.
Of all the governance criteria MCC assesses, none is as singularly important as corruption, which, historically, has weeded out more countries for eligibility than any other individual factor. It is, however, difficult to measure with precision, which can (and has) lead to poor decisions when interpreted too rigidly, resulting in cutting off, purely on the basis of indicator rules, compact partnerships with countries that have had no demonstrable change in their anticorruption environment. If you care about corruption, this isn’t the way to go about emphasizing that.
The Trump administration’s first budget deals a harsh blow to the international affairs budget. With a topline reduction of 32 percent, few programs avoid cuts. One that fares relatively well, however, is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Though the $800 million request is the lowest in the agency’s 15-year history, and—if enacted—would be its lowest-ever appropriation, it represents a cut of just 12 percent over last year’s enacted level.
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.