US foreign aid data murky, group says

World Bank, UK and Netherlands rank at top

The United States ranked 25th of 30 donors in the transparency of its foreign aid data, while the World Bank was most transparent and Japan the least, according to an assessment by a watchdog group.

The Publish What You Fund organization published its first global Aid Transparency Assessment on Oct. 25 that ranked 30 major donor countries and organizations on their transparency to recipient governments, to the public, and overall. The group said it was one of the first comprehensive comparisons of foreign aid.

“Our first major finding is that there is a lack of comparable and primary data available,” Public What You Fund said in a news release. “This meant we couldn’t do the type of bottom-up assessment we wanted to and highlights the essential nature of what donors are doing in building an international standard.”

The Netherlands and the United Kingdom both ranked high on transparency in the study, with scores over 75 percent, while Korea, Italy, Portugal, Austria and Japan ranked below the United States.

The United States scored 53 percent, below the average score of 61 percent.

“Low scores on these indicators are particularly damning given the international context of foreign aid spending,” Gavin Baker, federal information policy analyst with the watchdog group OMB Watch, wrote in his group’s blog Oct. 26.

“Unlike information about domestic programs, which is mostly of domestic interest, international users comprise a large part of the audience for aid information," he wrote. "A cowboy approach to aid transparency not only increases the burden on the countries we're trying to help, it also makes it more difficult to compare and coordinate with other donors, hindering assessments of performance and accountability.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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