3 rays of sunshine on Pentagon foreign aid

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Modernization of the nuclear arsenal. Continued detentions at Guantánamo Bay. Exemptions from civil rights laws. Removals from the Endangered Species list. These and many other provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which recently passed the House and Senate, have mired the legislation in controversy and provoked a veto threat from the White House.

{mosads}But amidst all the partisan rancor, the bills contain at least three solid victories for transparency and accountability of Pentagon-run foreign aid programs, all of which garnered broad bipartisan support.

• The House adopted an amendment, authored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), supporting evaluation of security cooperation programs. While nonbinding, the provision makes clear Congress’s desire for the establishment of a framework for assessing, monitoring and evaluating aid to build partner capacity, in order “to ensure accountability and foster implementation of best practices.”

• The Senate-passed bill contains a wholesale streamlining and reform of security assistance authorities — achieving in one fell swoop what the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations have sought unsuccessfully for decades to achieve for the foreign assistance programs under their jurisdiction. Included in this reform are requirements to conduct baseline assessments and set indicators for security cooperation initiatives, monitor their implementation, carry out evaluations in accordance with international best practices, and identify lessons learned. The secretary of Defense must report annually to the Armed Services Committees on how the department is meeting these requirements, and must publish summaries of each evaluation conducted.

• The Senate bill also requires an annual, country-by-country budget justification of all security cooperation programs — information that has been exceedingly difficult to obtain and is currently available to the public only as independently compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor.

If enacted, these provisions would shine much-needed light on the over $10 billion spent each year on training and equipping foreign militaries. With more data and greater transparency about where taxpayer dollars are going and what they are achieving, the United States can improve the effectiveness of its security cooperation programs and make evidence-based decisions about how to allocate resources for the best outcomes.

Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, co-chair of the Accountability Working Group of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and a board member of the Center for International Policy.

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