WASHINGTON, D.C. – Of the two bills introduced in July, both concerning foreign aid transparency, one has recently received further action from the Foreign Relations Committee. On November 14, the committee ordered the act to be reported with an amendment. Although far from attaining official bill status, if passed The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 would require government agencies to provide measurable goals and tangible results for foreign aid programs provided by the United States.
Originally introduced by Marco Rubio (R-FL) and co-sponsored by Ben Cardin (D-MD), the act known as S1.721 would hold the President responsible for the “establishment of measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for United States foreign assistance,” states its official summary at opencongress.org.
These guidelines would be instituted within governmental agencies that administer foreign aid and would require further follow up from both the President and Congress within an 18-month period. Additionally, the President must require the Secretary of State to revise the Department of State’s website, ForeignAssistance.gov.
The goal of this overhaul is to make information about U.S. foreign assistance programs more accessible and comprehensible on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis.
Notably, the bill requires the State Department to keep its foreign aid allowance organized. With the aid of the Government Accountability Office, Congress would be able to evaluate the effectiveness of each department that administers foreign assistance and then determine future appropriations, if any, to these departments.
A current problem with foreign aid administration is the inability to track program progress across various departments. By providing more easily accessible information, this bill would allow higher public access and greater accountability in terms of what programs are working and what aren’t. Moreover, it would provide the means to track the progress of foreign aid in comprehensible terms, a heretofore unavailable system.
Notably, this bill would turn an administrative practice into a legally binding law. In other words, it would not be attached to one specific administration and thus rescindable when a new president takes office.
Alongside Rubio, the nearly identical Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act was introduced by Ted Poe (R-TX) and co-sponsored by Gerry Connolly (D-VA) at the same time. Although less than 25% of the bills introduced to Congress actually become bills, the presence of a similar bipartisan bill implies that this idea holds popularity among Congress members and thus, if failing to be ratified, there stands a chance that a similar bill will be re-introduced.
In addition to the presence of two similar bills, it is equally significant that the Foreign Affairs Committee has made an action in regard to the bill. Often a bill may die after being referred to a committee. For example, a committee is not required to address any bill presented to them, which will result in its death. The fact the Foreign Affairs Committee has passed an action on the bill indicates that they have taken interest in it and the possibility of its continuation remains more likely.
There is no reason for its monitoring to not be organized in a manner comprehensible to the public. This allows interested parties, such as the public, to verify that U.S. foreign aid programs are used in a manner that adheres to national policies.
If the bill passes, the benefits would extend beyond satisfaction over the increased transparency and accountability of the U.S. Government. One of the prospective benefits of this bill is the possibility it has in teaching foreign aid administrators how to better develop and execute assistance programs. As a large contributor to foreign aid, nearly 23 billion dollars annually, S1.721 is needed to make sure these funds are being used appropriately to their greatest potential.
– Emily Bajet
Sources: Open Congress, Brookings, New York Times, Borgen Magazine, Congress, National Priorities
Photo: Foreign Policy