Making USAID more transparent: an interview with Tony Pipa


Last week, the Brookings Institution hosted an event on US Aid and Transparency for Global Development. Administrator Rajiv Shah of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) gave a speech focused on the ways that USAID is fulfilling a government-wide commitment to increase transparency and accountability, both in relation to aid and to development more widely. Administrator Shah’s message was that we should keep pushing relentlessly, for it is only through a “more transparent, honest, and clear system” that citizens will understand the results we can achieve in development.

After the event, I had the opportunity to interview USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning Tony Pipa on USAID’s transparency strategy and the work ahead:

Why does transparency and accountability matter for development?
First, it allows partner countries to better manage their aid flows, and also helps empower their citizens to hold their governments as well as donor governments to account. From our standpoint, it provides a better understanding of what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and to what effect. And then there’s the international accountability component. It sheds light on commitments and progress that both the US and other donor countries and organizations make. Transparency that empowers citizens to hold their governments to account forces us to be more effective and to be better cooperators and coordinators, to engage in development cooperation that lowers our own transaction costs by making sure we’re as focused as possible, and -– as the Administrator was saying –- be relentless.

How should the US plan to measure the impact that enhanced transparency and accountability makes on development outcomes?
Our new evaluation policy pushes us to have an evaluation posted three months after it is complete, and the aspiration is to make 200 evaluations available over the next year. Project-based evaluations will test the development hypothesis underlying a particular project. Our new policy framework for the next five years outlines the objectives and principles underlying those objectives. We’re going to be very attentive to evaluating if the framework has been effective.

What is the US doing to promote both transparency and accountability, for instance in relation to natural resource revenues and budgets?
There is a lot of momentum coming from the top levels of the Administration and the White House for more transparency. It’s something we as an agency have been taking seriously. The Open Government Partnership is very broad, and while USAID is part of the foreign assistance piece of it, other agencies participate as well. In addition to getting USAID’s data out there with the foreign assistance dashboard, we are ensuring that our new evaluations policy, our other policies and strategies and the evaluations themselves are public.

How is the US pushing forward the transparency and accountability agenda as part of the G8 and the G20 this year?
For the G8, given we’re in the lead role, and transparency and accountability will figure prominently. It’s early in the process, but as we create a report that charts our progress, we’d like to describe more completely how we’ve changed to optimize success. Expect some innovations in format and the tools that we use to measure progress on the L’Aquila commitments. And while we want to be as transparent as possible on financial flows, we want to expand it beyond simply accounting. For the G20, in addition to our priorities on food security, infrastructure and investment, we’re looking for how you strategically integrate crosscutting issues to find solutions to complex challenges. I don’t think you’re going to improve food security without also improving infrastructure, and well functioning, transparent tax regimes to provide better and more sustainable local and domestic resources.

Any last words for our members?
We’re going to continue to hear from your members on how we’re doing — and that’s a productive dialogue. We are trying to not just make our data transparent, but make opportunities available for dialogue and consultation on our policies and country strategies as they are developed, so your members can continue to look for that.