Tracking Foreign Aid

Table 1: U.S. Government Foreign Assistance ReportingYou can find out how much money the United States spends on foreign assistance, and where that money is going, on ForeignAssistance.gov—an official U.S. website that publishes this data.

For example, ForeignAssistance.gov indicated that foreign assistance funding will be almost $34 billion for fiscal year 2017. But is that data accurate?

We recently examined foreign assistance data on ForeignAssistance.gov and today’s WatchBlog shares what we found.

Incomplete data

ForeignAssistance.gov publishes data from 10 federal agencies on a quarterly basis. However, we found that this website did not include data on $5.9 billion in committed funds and $10.5 billion in spending for fiscal year 2014—based on comparison with data collected, verified, and published by the U.S. Agency for International Development on the Foreign Aid Explorer website.

Comparison of Foreign Assistance Funding Data Reported by 10 U.S. Agencies and Published on ForeignAssistance.gov and Foreign Aid Explorer, Fiscal Year 2014(Excerpted from GAO-16-768)

Tracking the missing pieces

The State Department, which manages ForeignAssistance.gov, conducts some accuracy checks on the website’s data (including ensuring that all fields are populated) but primarily relies on the agencies to report complete and accurate data.

Among the 10 agencies whose data are published on the website, we found that the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and State reported incomplete funding data for fiscal year 2014. Reasons include:

  • Multiple data sources—an agency may not have a single IT system from which to pull all required data.
  • Lack of detailed data—an agency’s existing IT systems may not track data at the required level of detail (e.g., at the country level).
  • Limited staff time—an agency may not have dedicated staff to report data, relying instead on existing staff who have other responsibilities.
  • Lack of funding—an agency may not have the resources to improve its data collection and reporting.

Figure 2: State’s Quarterly Data Collection and Publishing Process for ForeignAssistance.gov(Excerpted from GAO-16-768)

Room for improvement?

These data gaps may undermine ForeignAssistance.gov’s goal of increasing the public’s understanding and oversight of U.S. foreign assistance. We’ve made recommendations on how the State Department could improve the quality and transparency of data on this website.


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