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Earlier this month the US Treasury’s top international official announced at a congressional hearing that he would like to see the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) “wound down.” Not only would the United States no longer make contributions to the fund, but Treasury Undersecretary David Malpass indicated that he wants other GAFSP donors to end their contributions as well, arguing that the fund is duplicative and donors could channel their support through other institutions and funding sources.
This view, at first glance, is not crazy given the proliferation of development trust funds in recent decades, many of which operate with little scrutiny or evidence of impact. But scratching beneath GAFSP’s surface, there are good reasons to be concerned about the potential loss of this particular trust fund. And for those very reasons, it seems unlikely that the other GAFSP donors will be so quick to follow the US lead.
Before examining GAFSP’s merits, it’s worth understanding the history of this relatively young fund. Ten years ago, food prices in developing countries soared to unprecedented levels, resulting in riots that threatened governments as well as social stability around the world. Massive public protests erupted in countries ranging from Haiti to Egypt to Senegal. World Bank President Robert Zoellick predicted at the time that surging food costs could mean "seven lost years" in the fight against worldwide poverty.
Admirably, the international community stepped up to address the challenge. In April 2008, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund announced a series of measures aimed at mitigating the crisis, including increased loans to African farmers and emergency monetary aid to badly affected areas. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis that developed a Comprehensive Framework for Action to enhance global food security efforts.
And at the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, leaders endorsed a Global Food Security Initiative to help fill agricultural financing gaps in the poorest countries in the world. GAFSP was a core element of this initiative. The United States government was the leading architect of the GAFSP trust fund, and in full disclosure, I played a role in creating the fund as a US Treasury official at the time.
So, even if GAFSP’s historical context is compelling, why does it continue to hold merit today? I see at least three reasons.
1. There continues to be large unmet need for financing agriculture investments in poor countries.
According to the 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, for the first time since 2003 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world has increased, up to 815 million from 777 million in 2015. Moreover, the global population is projected to grow from some 7.3 billion to almost 9.8 billion by 2050, with most of that increase coming in the developing regions. In low-income countries, the population may double to 1.4 billion. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, feeding humanity will require a 50 percent increase in the production of food and other agricultural products between 2012 and mid-century.
Donor financing does not appear to have kept pace with the need. OECD statistics show that the share of bilateral official development assistance devoted to agriculture production was the same in 2015 (4.3 percent) as it was in 2008. The World Bank, the largest single source of development finance, approved over US$5 billion in agriculture and rural development financing last fiscal year, but this is the lowest level since 2011 and well below the peak of US$8.3 billion in 2009. The GAFSP remains the only multilateral vehicle that targets funding for agriculture and rural development in the poorest countries.
Rather than provide money to any country that demonstrates a need, a steering committee agrees to funds proposals that are chosen for rigorous measures of quality through a competitive process; in the most recent round for selecting public sector projects, just seven of the over twenty proposals were funded. To enhance the selection process, a panel of (unpaid) independent technical experts recommends which proposals should be funded. And, unlike traditional multilateral mechanisms, the GAFSP steering committee is composed of representatives of donors, recipient countries, implementing agencies, and civil society. Monitoring and evaluation of projects is at the forefront of project design and funding decisions, and randomized control trials (RCTs) are incorporated into many project designs.
3. GAFSP is delivering results.
Initial findings from the RCTs of early GAFPS projects are starting to come in and they are very encouraging. For example, in the Integrated Agricultural Productivity Project in Bangladesh, an RCT found that during 2014–2016 income levels of project households cultivating crops and fisheries increased by 15 percent and 37 percent, respectively, compared to non-project household. Similarly, in Rwanda, an RCT reported an 11 percent gain in the value of harvest and a 28 percent gain in the value of sales, respectively, during one season (September to February), and in target irrigated areas, productivity increased by 423 percent. In Cambodia, a government-led, nonexperimental impact evaluation found an 85 percent income gain.
By focusing on agriculture investments, the GAFSP also plays a major role in increasing median incomes in low-income countries by pulling people out of poverty. Investments in agriculture are estimated to be two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth generated from other sectors. Not only does improving agricultural productivity make more food available in rural communities, where 70 percent of the world’s poor live, it also provides a sustainable source of income for people with limited opportunity.
So what’s next for GAFSP? The Trump administration has already made clear that it will no longer be contributing to the multi-donor trust fund created by its predecessor. Unfortunately, the administration isn’t satisfied to leave it at that and is now calling on other GAFSP donors to end their contributions to the fund. If GAFSP were an abject failure, such a stance might be met favorably by the other donors, marking the last gasp for GAFSP. But the fund counts among its top donors actors who place a high value on evidence-driven investments, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian, Dutch, German, and British governments. I doubt very much that these donors will be so quick to walk away from such an unambiguous success.
And with time, perhaps the current administration will reconsider its misguided stance on this innovative fund. One prod in this direction just might be a multilateral aid review, which appears to be gaining momentum in the Senate and would introduce an evidence-driven process for evaluating the relative value of the various contributions the United States makes to multilateral institutions.
On the heels of President Trump’s trip to the Philippines, a bilateral foreign policy question looms. 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. The board needs to formally reselect the country this year for program development to proceed. The Philippines has been a long-term partner for MCC, having completed a threshold program (2006–2009) and a compact (2011–2016). In late 2014, MCC gave the Philippines the green light for the next step, selecting it to start developing a second compact. However, 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.
For background on MCC’s selection process, visit MCC’s official document or my short synopsis (see section “How the Selection Process Works,” p. 2-4).
The Philippines and the United States have long been strong allies. Close military and security cooperation, substantial trade and investment, and immigration have contributed to what both countries have typically viewed as an overwhelmingly favorable relationship. The inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte in mid-2016, however, created something of a rift. At the outset of his tenure, Duterte engaged in inflammatory anti-American (and specifically anti-Obama) rhetoric, threatening to “break up with America.” This came largely in response to concerns voiced by President Obama and others over Duterte’s support for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of individuals suspected of involvement in illicit drug activity. When MCC’s board faced the decision last year of whether to give the Philippines the go-ahead to continue working toward a second compact, it deferred, opting to take a wait-and-see stance rather than a forward-leaning foreign policy decision. That decision, which could have been interpreted as either a stamp of approval or a punitive action with respect to a significant ally would have occurred just weeks before the new Trump administration was to take office.
Over the past year, anti-American rhetoric has waned as Presidents Trump and Duterte have forged a more friendly relationship. And Trump has been virtually silent on the human rights concerns expressed by the previous administration—even telling Duterte during an early phone call that he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
This sets up the MCC board for a tough call. Should good governance-focused MCC take a stand on the Philippines’ serious human rights concerns even though the White House has been ambivalent, at best, about the issue? How much will the answer to this question be informed by pressure to treat delicately an important geostrategic ally whose current leadership has responded to US criticism by threatening American interests and edging closer to China?
In making that decision, another important factor will come into play. The Philippines doesn’t pass MCC’s scorecard criteria this year, falling just short on the critical Control of Corruption indicator. In some ways, that may seem convenient. Pointing to a failing Control of Corruption indicator would theoretically give the board cover to pull back MCC’s engagement with the Philippines without having to (a) express concerns about other governance issues and (b) awkwardly put MCC, as opposed to the State Department, at the leading edge of that conversation.
As tempting as that rationale might be, it’s also wrong. The Philippines’ failing score does NOT mean that the country is suddenly much more corrupt. In fact, the change in score is slight and not even close to statistically significant. The simple fact is that the Philippines has always been near the middle of the pack on this indicator, fluctuating above and below the passing threshold (in its eight years as a lower-middle-income country, it’s passed the Control of Corruption indicator three times). Simply put, its measured corruption performance this year is not meaningfully different than the year it was selected.
As I’ve arguedmanytimes, MCC should not necessarily curtail a country’s compact development process just because it fails the Control of Corruption hurdle. For corruption to be a valid justification, MCC should be able to point to a concrete decline in actual policy—not just in score. MCC’s official guidance suggests this is the agency’s approach, as well, noting that the board should use its judgement—informed by its understanding of data limitations—to interpret what the scorecard says about policy performance. Unfortunately, the board’s interpretation of the data has sometimes been more rigid than the indicators’ imprecision allows. For instance, the board decided not to reselect Benin, Sierra Leone (FY2014), and Kosovo (FY2017) for compact eligibility when they narrowly failed the Control of Corruption indicator, even though MCC acknowledged (for the former two at least) there had been no deterioration in policy. Sierra Leone and Kosovo were relegated to MCC’s much smaller threshold program. Benin was reselected for compact eligibility the following year, but only after compact development was slowed by the earlier decision. Earlier this year, I was hopeful that MCC would formalize an approach to corruption that would—for decisions about whether to reselect countries to continue compact development—reduce the need for the board to trade off appearing to “play by the rules” (countries must pass the Control of Corruption hurdle) and the imperative to use data wisely. The current guidance isn’t explicit about this, leaving open the possibility that the board could use the Control of Corruption indicator as an “easy out.” I hope that’s not the route they’ll take.
I hope that instead, the board gives greater scrutiny to other aspects of the Philippines’ scorecard data. For eligibility for a second compact, MCC is clear that there is a higher “good governance” bar. The agency looks not just for a passing scorecard, but for improved performance during the course of the previous compact. In the past, I’ve highlighted why this can sometimes be an impractical criterion, but for the Philippines, there are some signals the board should heed. Notably, while the Philippines still easily passes the Civil Liberties indicator, Freedom House (the indicator’s source) gave the Philippines a “downward trend arrow” due to the extrajudicial killings associated with the war on drugs, as well as threats against civil society activists. The Philippines also fails the Rule of Law indicator (which covers events of 2016 and earlier). The decline is slight, and, given its longstanding middle-of-the-pack rank, it has failed this indicator before. But it will be useful for MCC and the board to understand what is behind the decline and how assessments have changed over the past year.
All this makes the Philippines the decision to watch at MCC’s upcoming December board meeting. In the balance are not only the fate of the Philippines’ compact, but also important questions of how the new board under the Trump administration interprets MCC’s good governance mandate and whether it will use data wisely.
Note (December 4, 2017): The data in this blog present the first release of DRM-coded data in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting Service. Please keep in mind the following caveats. The Addis Tax Initiative—and by extension the OECD data—focus on domestic revenue mobilization; the data don’t capture everything within the broader category of domestic resource mobilization (e.g., strengthening and borrowing from domestic capital markets). Furthermore, because this is a relatively new data classification, the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the data are evolving. There are some known gaps in the data presented below. Bottom line, however, we’re pleased a framework now exists to track US (and other donor) investments in DRM; we hope those reporting data will contribute to quality improvements going forward.
Domestic revenue mobilization (DRM) seems set to be a priority area for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under Administrator Mark Green. In line with emerging international and domestic consensus on the importance of DRM, Administrator Green hasrepeatedly highlighted the importance of helping countries mobilize their own domestic resources. Furthermore, DRM, which aims to help partner countries better self-finance their own development priorities, is a promising tool for helping select middle-income countries transition away from USAID’s grant-based assistance, another statedpriority for Administrator Green (stay tuned for forthcoming research on transition from Sarah Rose and Erin Collinson).
DRM, which supports strengthened tax policy and administration, is not a new objective for US foreign assistance. For many years, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) have been working with countries to improve tax collection, customs capacity, public financial management, and the like.
The challenge has been in tracking US (and other donors’) support for DRM activities. Historically, there has been very little data on the amount of assistance going to DRM, but this is starting to change. The 2015 Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) provided the first framework to track donors’ support for DRM activities in a systematic manner through the OECD’s Creditor Reporting Service. ATI used this data in its first Monitoring Report, released in July. 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 United States is the second-largest donor to DRM
The United States is the second-largest donor to DRM, behind the United Kingdom. Other major donors include Germany, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), and Norway.
USAID leads US DRM efforts
In 2015, the United States delivered $37 million in DRM-focused assistance in 32 countries. USAID contributed the most, disbursing nearly $25 million, followed by MCC ($8.2 million), Treasury ($3.7 million), and the US Trade and Development Agency (a single $8,000 feasibility study in Pakistan).
The type of engagement varies by agency. MCC funded comparatively larger projects, with an average project size of $2.1 million across four projects. On the other end of the spectrum, the average size of the 40 Treasury projects was around $9,000. USAID’s 37 projects had an average cost of $671,000.
The majority of US assistance to DRM (66 percent) is delivered as project-type interventions—for example, training officials, modernizing IT and other equipment, supporting public awareness campaigns and taxpayer outreach, and modernizing tax collection infrastructure. Another 27 percent of DRM funds support US advisors to deliver in-country technical assistance (mostly through Treasury). Additionally, USAID contributed a small fraction (under $1 million) of assistance to multilateral institutions.
The Philippines and Afghanistan are top recipients of US DRM assistance
The United States provided DRM assistance to 32 countries in 2015. Of the total US spending on DRM that year, 40 percent went to low-income countries, 44 percent to lower-middle-income countries, and 6 percent to upper-middle-income countries—which broadly tracks the distribution of the US government’s overall development aid allocation by income category.
Consistent with the models of each agency, the MCC is the most focused of the agencies. In 2015, MCC’s DRM projects were limited to only two countries, with one, the Philippines, dominating. By contrast, the work led by USAID and OTA was dispersed more widely. USAID worked in 14 countries, spending an average of $1.8 million per country. Treasury worked in 19 countries, spending an average of only $197,000 per country.
Recipients of US aid to DRM, 2015
Considerations for expanding US contributions to DRM
As the United States seeks to refine and possibly ramp up its approach to DRM, this analysis points to several considerations that US foreign assistance agencies should think through:
What is the role of US aid agencies vis-à-vis other donors? The United States is a significant donor to DRM efforts—but it’s not the largest. Given the substantial efforts of many other bilateral and multilateral donors—including the IMF’s Tax Policy and Administration Topical Trust Fund and the OECD’s Tax Inspectors Without Borders—the United States should a) identify how best to support multilateral efforts, and b) establish its comparative advantage in this area vis-à-vis other actors in the space.
How can US agencies better coordinate DRM efforts to maximize effect? Each of the three agencies contributing to DRM efforts has its own approach. MCC funds substantial partner country-identified interventions in a small number of countries. OTA sends financial advisors to work in partner country governments on revenue policy and administration and/or budget and financial accountability. USAID covers a wide array of goals and instruments, generally focused on strengthening revenue administration, assisting on tax reform, and encouraging a culture of tax compliance, and often covers a wide range of smaller interventions. The agencies do coordinate with one another; both MCC and USAID fund OTA’s work, for example. Continued focus on coordination will remain necessary to maximize effectiveness.
Where should the United States focus increased assistance? US agencies operate DRM projects in a range of countries, from upper-middle-income countries like Tunisia to fragile, low-income countries like South Sudan. For countries at the higher-income end of the spectrum, DRM could be particularly useful as part of a strategy to transition partners away from traditional, grant-based foreign assistance by building their capacity to self-finance their development objectives. For small, fragile states, DRM assistance can lay the groundwork for other reforms, like state-building. In all cases, DRM efforts must be undertaken with due attention to the risks of overburdening poor people. A study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that the real tax rate on low-income Congolese is 40 percent of their wealth. And CGD non-resident fellow Nora Lustig found that the extreme poverty headcount ratio may actually be higher after taxes and transfers in some countries than before.
The US Department of the Interior announced last week that the United States would no longer seek to comply with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international multi-stakeholder organization that aims to increase revenue transparency and accountability in natural resource extraction. The move—while disappointing—is not altogether unexpected. And sadly, it will put the United States further behind the curve when it comes to corporate transparency.
Why This Matters
EITI established a global standard for reporting financial flows in extractive sectors, a critical element of promoting good governance of oil, gas, and mineral resources—in what the OECD cites as the world’s most corrupt industry. While transparency alone is not enough, citizens and civil society can use published data to increase government accountability, protect revenues, and fight corruption. Given that natural resource wealth too often finances kleptocrats and wars rather than investment and development, this is surely a good thing.
The message from the Department of the Interior suggests that the US government “remains fully committed to institutionalizing the EITI principles of transparency and accountability,” but the decision to no longer implement EITI offers yet another instance of the United States walking away from an international commitment. And in doing so, the US government forfeits its ability to meaningfully champion extractive sector transparency at a time when evidence of EITI’s impact is growing.
In February, Congress used the Congressional Review Act to kill a proposed rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission—scheduled to take effect next fall—that would have required public companies that extract oil, natural gas, or minerals to disclose payments made to foreign governments or the US federal government. The proposed rule was a long-delayed attempt to implement Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act—also known as the Cardin-Lugar Provision after its Senate champions.
According to a report from the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published in May, the United States had managed to fulfill seven of the eight requirements for EITI compliance. But the remaining requirement—for the federal government to reconcile its revenue collection data with extractive payment data provided by companies—was proving difficult. The Section 1504 rule would have mandated disclosures from oil, gas, and mining companies. Without it, the Department was left to rely on voluntary disclosures of data—and most companies weren’t providing it. The OIG pointed out that the US government had been pursuing an alternative avenue to fulfilling this requirement, but would ultimately need approval from the EITI board. And if the United States underwent validation (a required assessment of its EITI performance) without such an agreement and was found short of full compliance, its status would be downgraded from “implementing country” to “supporting country.” With the United State slated for validation in April 2018, the clock was ticking.
A Growing Problem?
So why exit EITI now? It is possible the US government was concerned about losing face following a validation process that results in a downgrade, which it sought to avoid by preemptively adopting the “supporting country” moniker. Or perhaps the Department of the Interior simply ceded to pressure from extractive industry companies concerned about privacy and compliance costs.
In any case, the challenge of US EITI compliance was certain to grow. The Initiative is slated to phase in another major requirement in 2020—one on beneficial ownership. EITI countries will be required to report the identity of individuals who own or control extractive companies. The motive behind public disclosure of beneficial ownership is to prevent anonymity that could conceal transnational financial crimes, from terrorist financing and sanctions busting to money laundering and tax evasion. But there are obstacles to mandating beneficial ownership disclosure in the United States (as discussed here), which is complicated by the fact that state governments manage the registration of corporations.
EITI initially had the support of both US industry and government. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, is a partner organization of EITI, and contrasted EITI’s level playing field with the Section 1504 Dodd-Frank provision in a press release last year. But times have changed. EITI’s disclosure requirements are growing more stringent. The considerable majority of the Initiative’s implementing countries appear capable of keeping pace. But, sadly, that does not apply to the United States. In extractives transparency, America has long since lost the mantle of leadership. The announcement on EITI suggests that these days it can’t even keep up with the pack.
It has been a rough year for the State Department’s Population, Refugees, and Migration bureau—colloquially known as “PRM.” Speculation about PRM’s future has swirled following the Trump administration’s moves to curtail refugee admissions, and a proposal by the White House Domestic Policy Council to eliminate the bureau and distribute its components to the Department of Homeland Security (resettlement and migration policy) and USAID (assistance funding). Most observers agree that resettlement and migration functions should stay at State, but the question of whether assistance funds should shift to AID has gotten more traction. These two matters are likely linked—stripping PRM of its program funds would leave it greatly diminished and far more vulnerable to a DHS takeover. But the issue of program coherence nonethless remains an important one to address on the merits.
The office I used to lead—USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance—would be a major beneficiary of such a change. Shifting PRM’s assistance portfolio to USAID would roughly triple OFDA’s budget, adding nearly $3 billion a year to its existing $1.5 billion appropriation.
So it may be surprising that I have deep reservations about this idea. Why? I fear that diminishing or removing an empowered humanitarian voice from the State Department weakens humanitarian priorities in US policy writ large. And I believe there are ways to address legitimate concerns about the existing structure without dismantling PRM. Let’s dive in.
First, it is important to acknowledge that there are downsides to the current setup. In an era that demands greater coherence from the humanitarian system, US humanitarian assistance remains split across three offices—two at USAID (OFDA and Food for Peace) and State/PRM. Each has a different focus—food, refugees, and everything that isn’t food or refugees. In 2017, these are no longer sensible dividing lines for humanitarian assistance. Food and non-food aid must be mutually reinforcing in order to be effective, and the assistance needs of refugees and non-refugees are often broadly similar. Moreover, these divisions mean each office funds programs in different ways, with its own redundant grant procedures, reporting requirements, and programming tactics (more on this below).
The argument for folding PRM’s funding into USAID is primarily about streamlining this outdated assistance model. Doing so (along with an anticipated merger of OFDA and FFP within USAID) would consolidate all US humanitarian funding into a single bureau at AID. This could lend greater alignment to US humanitarian assistance strategy, enable the US to speak with one voice (rather than three) in UN agency governing bodies, and harmonize the very different funding approaches that USAID and State/PRM now employ.
If that were the end of the story, I could wholeheartedly support such a move. But it isn’t.
For humanitarian action is not just about aid—it is also about protection. This requires diplomatic and policy engagement—areas where the State Department plays a key role, and often carries a lot more weight than USAID. Somalis fleeing into Kenya, South Sudanese fleeing into Uganda, Syrians fleeing into Jordan, or Burmese Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh don’t just need food, shelter, water, and health assistance. They also need legal protection, respect for their human rights, and access to job markets and education systems. Under international law, they need a process in place for making asylum claims, and for ensuring they will not be forced back to life-threatening conditions in their home country (a legal principle known as non-refoulement).
These are, fundamentally, foreign policy matters. They are best pursued with refugee-hosting governments through diplomatic channels. A message on non-refoulement carries more weight coming from the ambassador than from a USAID mission director. PRM keeps State Department leadership attuned to these issues, and ensures they are raised diplomatically when needed. PRM’s stature within the Department—and, in turn, an ambassador’s ability to negotiate refugee protection with a host government—is heavily tied to PRM’s program budget. It is a truism in government—but an accurate one—that controlling resources gives leverage at the policy table.
Leaving PRM’s policy functions in State while moving its programming to AID is a recipe for marginalizing this aspect of humanitarian action. Inside State, PRM would get far less traction because—when stripped of its $3 billion budget—it would be seen (accurately) as a much weaker player. Leverage with host governments would be diminished as well, because PRM’s policy engagement would no longer be backed up by substantial program funds.
And weakening PRM doesn’t just weaken US refugee policy—it weakens US humanitarian policy. In the interagency policy process, having strong and empowered humanitarian voices at both State and AID helps amplify humanitarian perspectives in deliberations. And PRM is an important go-to for the secretary of state; on humanitarian matters, PRM typically holds more sway with the secretary than anyone at AID outside of the administrator. Marginalizing this channel will permanently erode the priority of the humanitarian concerns reaching the secretary’s desk—and that, in turn, will send signals throughout the rest of the Department.
So, neither the status quo bifurcation, nor a full merger at AID, is an appealing option. What to do?
There is a third option—addressing the incoherence of the current structure while ensuring an empowered humanitarian voice remains within both State and AID. Here are some ways that could work:
Unify Field Operations: The fragmentation of US humanitarian assistance is most overt at field level, where NGO and UN partners potentially have three US humanitarian representatives to engage—the OFDA team, the FFP representative, and the PRM refugee coordinator. More often than not, each of these folks are based out of different embassies in the region, and report back to different masters in Washington. All should be merged into unified USG regional humanitarian teams, managed by USAID, a structure that should be mirrored at country level as well. PRM field staff could be seconded onto these teams while maintaining an oversight and reporting line to PRM/DC—a common practice between other interagency partners and USAID. This consolidation would both ensure the US government presents a more coherent face toward its implementing partners, and facilitate more efficient and integrated programming. USAID appears poised to get the ball rolling on this by consolidating its OFDA and FFP field teams—a good first step.
Consolidate NGO Funding Tools: OFDA, FFP, and PRM all maintain their own distinct funding processes, with distinct proposal solicitations, grant templates, and reporting requirements. This means that NGO partners seeking to implement, say, a food and water project for a blended refugee and non-refugee population must do so through three different grant processes and submit three different reports on three different timelines and three different formats (and probably a few more for the US-supported cofinancing they get through UN intermediaries). These systems should be harmonized into a single, consolidated NGO proposal and reporting process, through which USG implementing partners can apply for integrated program funding across both USAID and State.
Harmonize Program Approaches: I believe OFDA’s programming approach should be the principal model for US humanitarian assistance. Through its famous “DART” teams and excellent field operators, OFDA takes a hands-on approach that delivers impact, influence, and high visibility for the USG. This model provides robust support to both NGO and UN partners, based on which type of partner is best positioned to deliver results. It is swift and operational, deploying large teams to new disasters in a matter of hours or days. It ensures strong accountability and oversight, as it enables USG personnel to engage with and monitor implementing partners directly at field level, in real time. And OFDA’s model sets funding strategy in the field, based on partner delivery capacity and comparative advantages of UN and NGO organizations. PRM’s programming model instead relies heavily on the multilateral system, routing most of its funding through global or regional-level UN appeals.
For the reasons outlined earlier, I do believe it is important that PRM continue to manage refugee assistance programming—but that it shift to a more OFDA-like model for doing so. If field teams and funding tools were harmonized as proposed above, PRM could begin applying an OFDA-like field-centric model in the refugee space as well, which would enable tighter oversight. And it would ensure more consistent programming interventions across refugee and non-refugee programs as well.
Share Oversight of Multilateral Partners: The USG needs cohesive engagement with the multilateral system not just at the field level, but at the global level as well. At present PRM leads on governance of UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the Red Cross; FFP leads on governance of the World Food Programme; and OFDA leads on governance of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. There is often a significant degree of turf protection in these roles, despite the fact that all three USG offices have significant equities at play with all of these agencies. This makes for siloed governance and contributes to UN interagency dysfunction. Going forward, the USAID administrator (as the government’s senior-most humanitarian official) should have the lead on overall USG governance of the major multilateral humanitarian agencies, with the policy outreach, day-to-day relationship management, and support functions continuing to reside where they respectively sit in PRM and AID.
Merge the Funding Accounts: In FY 2010, OFDA and FFP began sharing resources from the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account, which previously had exclusively funded OFDA. This started off contentiously, but over time the inter-office tension dissipated and gave way to new budget processes that significantly improved budget coordination. Sharing the account forced both offices to look more holistically at problem sets, and to consider budget trade-offs in terms of the greatest humanitarian impact rather than as zero-sum turf wars.
Right now, refugee aid is appropriated through the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, fully distinct from the non-refugee assistance in IDA. But in practice, MRA funds non-refugee programs (through multilateral contributions to the Red Cross and International Organization for Migration) and IDA funds refugee support (through FFP’s refugee food aid programs). Yet because of the budget bifurcation, there is weak coordination of these interrelated programs between State and AID, and it is bureaucratically complex to fund holistic programs that encompass refugee and non-refugee elements. Funding most refugee aid through the IDA account, with PRM programming it, could take PRM-USAID coordination to the next level (some functions, like resettlement, would need to stay within MRA). Forcing both PRM and AID to share IDA would doubtless spur some initial tension. But over time it would yield a more engaged budget and strategy dialog and better complementarity between refugee and non-refugee programs. OMB could apportion a subset of the annual appropriation to PRM for refugee support and allocate the balance to AID, based on a joint budget review process between the two organizations.
Some of these steps may sound painful and onerous—but they are far less extreme than the step of folding PRM’s programming role completely into USAID. And they present a means of maintaining strong humanitarian perspectives and programs at the State Department, with robust resources, while dramatically improving the cohesion and effectiveness of US humanitarian assistance. Given the serious downsides to both the status quo and a full merger, this sort of blended approach could provide a viable way forward.