- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The State Department is supporting a new website that allows taxpayers to track how much foreign aid the government is giving and what it’s being spent on.

Like several similar sites before it, ForeignAssistance.gov is launching to allow greater transparency of the Obama administration’s governance efforts. The State Department announced Tuesday that it was uploading the first round of data — covering 2012 to 2014 — and that the website would be updated on a quarterly basis.

“ForeignAssistance.gov serves as a mechanism for users to view foreign assistance data from across the U.S. Government and provides a wide variety of stakeholders with a tool to analyze, examine, research, and track U.S. Government foreign assistance investments,” the agency said in a press release.

The release comes the same day lawmakers questioned whether U.S. foreign aid was being wasted in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, which have so far received $66 billion and nearly $103 billion, respectively.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday she believes the U.S. sometimes funds “way too large and way too ambitious” projects in Afghanistan.

It’s an assessment often backed up by federal investigators, who say projects are often built without any eye towards whether the Afghans will be able to maintain them once the U.S. withdraws.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which handles much of the funding, told The Washington Times Tuesday they believe that the money “contributed to Afghanistan experiencing greater improvement in human development, a measure of health, education and standard of living, than any other country in the world since 2000.”

Aside from the State Department and USAID, the Pentagon hands out the lion’s share of U.S. monetary aid to Afghanistan, focusing on supporting anti-extremist programs and bolstering the country’s army and local security forces.

Of course, Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t the only nations receiving foreign aid from the U.S. Israel, Pakistan, and Egypt and other African nations often receive large amounts, too.

The U.S. usually spends between $30 billion and $50 billion on foreign aid each year, depending on how it’s counted and if military assistance is included. Most estimates place the 2013 number at $37 billion.

A survey last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most Americans believe nearly a third of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid annually. The actual number is usually closer to one percent.

By making the records of money given easier to find for the public, the State Department said it hopes to cut down on waste.

“Foreign aid transparency can help recipient governments and interested stakeholders ensure more efficient use of aid, coordination among donors, and reduce opportunities for waste, duplication and corruption,” the agency said.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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