The U.S. Combating Global Corruption Act Is a Worthwhile Proposal that Deserves More Attention

I know a lot of what I write on this blog is pessimistic, critiical, or both, but every once in a while it’s nice to call attention to some positive, encouraging developments. In this spirit, I was heartened to read that a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators last week introduced a new bill, the “Combating Global Corruption Act of 2017” (CGCA), that strikes me as quite a good idea overall. Yes, I realize that most bills like this never make it out of committee, let alone get enacted into law. And yes, the bill has a number of problems, some of which might be fixable through the amendment process but others of which are more inherent. But on the whole, it seems to me that this is the sort of bill that the U.S. anticorruption community ought to support.

Here’s a quick summary of what the bill would do, why I think it’s basically a sound idea, and (because I can’t help myself) a few of its problems and difficulties. (The full text of the bill can be found at the link above, and a press release about it from Senator Cardin’s office is here.)

The bill is clearly modeled on laws like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which requires (among other things) that the U.S. State Department to issue a “Trafficking in Persons” report each year that classifies countries into tiers based on whether they satisfy the TVPA’s minimum standards for efforts to eliminate human trafficking (including appropriate laws, “vigorous” enforcement of those laws, protection of victims, preventative measures, and adequate international cooperation), and withholds non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance from any country that falls into the bottom tier absent a special waiver from the president.

The proposed CGCA has a similar structure:  It sets “minimum standards for the elimination of corruption” that include (1) adoption of laws, policies, and practices that prohibit both grand and petty corruption; (2) enforcement of those laws through a fair judicial process, with punishments that are commensurate with the seriousness of the offense; and (3) more general “serious and sustained efforts” to eliminate corruption. The CGCA requires the Secretary of State to issue an annual report to Congress classifying each country into one of three tiers based on their compliance with these minimum standards: Tier 1 includes countries that meet the minimum standards; Tier 2 countries are those that are making efforts to comply with the minimum standards but still fall short; and Tier 3 countreis ar those that are making “de minimis or no efforts” to meet the minimum standards. In making these determinations, which are to be included in an annual public report to Congress, the Secretary of State is instructed to consider a number of factors, including:

  • the country’s track record of investigating, prosecuting, and convicting those who commit corruption offenses;
  • whether the courts that handle these cases are independent and impartial, and not subject to any improper influences or pressures;
  • whether the government has adopted preventative measures, including educational and informational programs;
  • whether the country provides adequate access and support to civil society organizations that combat corruption through reporting, investigation, and monitoring;
  • whether the country cooperates with international efforts to investigate and combat corruption, including extradition requests;
  • whether the country ensures that victims of corruption have access to justice and are protected from re-victimization; and
  • whether the country adequately protects whistleblowers who help expose corruption.

If a country is placed in Tier 3, the CGCA calls on the Secretary of State (in coordination, as necessary, with the USAID Administrator and the Secretary of Defense) to impose several conditions on the provision of foreign assistance to that country (other than humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, or anticorruption assistance), unless the Secretary of State certifies that granting a waiver from these conditions is important to U.S. national security interests. The conditions are as follows:

  1. Any foreign assistance must be preceded by a corruption risk assessment and include a corruption risk mitigation strategy;
  2. All foreign assistance agreements must include clauses that allow termination of the agreement without penalty if credible indicators of corruption in the project are discovered;
  3. All foreign assistance agreements must also include “clawback” provisions that allow the U.S. government to seek recovery of taxpayer funds that have been misappropriated through corruption;
  4. All organizations receiving funding from U.S. foreign assistance programs must disclose their beneficial owners;
  5. There must be a mechanism established for investigating allegations of misappropriated foreign assistance funds or equipment.

There’s other stuff in the statute too, but these are the big things. Why do I like it? A few main reasons:

  • First, independent of the foreign assistance conditions, a statute like this will help in the anticorruption fight by raising the profile of the issue, both inside and outside the U.S. government, and requiring the regular compilation and presentation of information on what different countries are doing with respect to corruption. Those with the requisite knowledge and interest within the U.S. government will see their value rise, and the issuance of the annual reports will attract attention from Congress, the media, and the general public.
  • Second, for all their problems and limitations (on which more in a moment), my impression is that the TVPA, on which the CGCA is so clearly and closely modeled, has had a meaningful impact, not only because of the foreign aid conditionality, but simply because of the prestige costs of being labeled a delinquent on the fight against human trafficking. I freely admit that I’m not terribly knowledgeable about this, and if I’m wrong in my conjecture that the TVPA has had an overall positive effect, I hope someone out there in reader-land will correct me. But in general, I think that “naming and shaming” strategies in this area can be helpful, though it probably goes without saying that they’re nowhere near enough.
  • Third, I like the fact that the proposed evaluation system focuses less on the extent of the problem, and more on how much various governments are doing about it. I certainly hope that an assessment of how effectively the country is taking action to combat corruption is construed broadly to include, say, effective enforcement of anti-money laundering and know-your-customer laws, so that financial centers that turn a blind eye to the corrupt source of dirty money are scrutinized as well.

So, there’s much to like about the CGCA. But there are some difficulties and concerns as well. Let me flag a few here (though since I’m trying to maintain a positive, enthusiastic tone in this post, so I’ll defer more searching scrutiny and criticism for later):

  • First, though as I noted above my general impression of the TVPA is that it’s had a positive effect, it can’t be denied that the ranking system has proved controversial, and has opened up the U.S to accusations that it “plays politics” with at least some of the classifications. That risk is perhaps even more severe for something like corruption.
  • Second, and closely related, the U.S. needs to be acutely sensitive to accusations of hypocrisy when it accuses other countries of not meeting “minimum standards” on some of these anticorruption issues. Many countries complain, for example, that the U.S. government does not respond quickly enough, or cooperate fully enough, with requests for assistance from foreign governments on corruption investigations. The lack of corporate beneficial ownership transparency in the U.S. is already a sore point, and a statute that insisted on beneficial ownership transparency for the U.S. government’s partners, while still not insisting on such transparency for U.S. firms, might seem like the most flagrant sort of double-standard. And given all the controversies and accusations (well-founded or not) swirling around the Trump family’s global business interests, it might be a bit awkward right now for the U.S. to be lecturing and rating others with regard to the problem of “grand corruption” (which the CGCA defines in part as “the exercise of public power for private gain [by an actor] at a high level of government that distorts policies or … enables leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good”). That said, from a broader anticorruption advocacy perspective, that a statute like the CCGA might open the U.S. up to accusations of hypocrisy might be a feature, not a bug, as it could in turn ratchet up the pressure on the U.S. to get its own house in order.
  • Third, it seems to me there’s a bit of a mismatch between the classification criteria and the special conditions for tier-3 countries. First of all, most of the conditions specified in the statute don’t really seem to me like penalties so much as totally reasonable conditions to place on foreign assistance projects in high-corruption-risk countries. Suppose, for example, there’s a country with very high corruption risk (as measured, say, by an abysmal CPI score), but the government is at least trying to get it under control, such that the country would fall at worst into tier-2, not tier-3. (Nigeria and India might fall into this category, for example.) Why wouldn’t we still want U.S. foreign assistance projects in those countries to include anticorruption clauses in the contracts, requirements of beneficial ownership transparency for contractors and other private-sector partners receiving U.S. foreign aid money, and so forth? On the flip side, the statute does essentially nothing (other than the public shaming noted above) to pressure tier-3 countries that don’t receive substantial amounts of U.S. foreign assistance, or don’t care much about added conditions on such assistance. I’m not sure if I’d necessarily call for more severe sanctions or not. But here I think it’s worth pointing out that the CGCA, as proposed, seems to conflate two separate issues: (1) what measures should the U.S. adopt to prevent corruption in U.S. foreign assistance project, and (2) what sanctions, if any, should the U.S. use to encourage countries to make serious and sustained efforts to combat corruption? I think the statute would be more effective if these two questions were considered separately, rather than using the threat of corruption-prevention conditions as a kind of “stick.”

Those qualms aside, this proposal strikes me as the kind of thing the U.S. anticorruption community might want to champion. But it doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen yet. (For example, as of the end of last week, there was no reference to this proposal on the websites for the Coalition for Integrity (what used to be the U.S. chapter of Transparency International), the Transparency International Secretariat, or Global Witness. Maybe those organizations have made a considered decision that this legislation is not a good idea, or not important enough to waste time on given its low odds of passage and their other priorities. But for what it’s worth, since I know we’ve got readers out there who work at these and other advocacy organizations, perhaps this is something that the anticorruption community ought to champion?

12 thoughts on “The U.S. Combating Global Corruption Act Is a Worthwhile Proposal that Deserves More Attention

  1. Hi Matthew,

    Interesting to read your thoughts about the Combating Global Corruption Act, including as regards the risks of a US-led exercise in assessing/ranking commitment to tackle corruption being seen as hypocritical.

    For your info, Nathaniel Heller at Results for Development and Michael Moses at Global Integrity (where I also work) did blogposts on this proposed piece of legislation last year.

    Both pieces support the goal of the legislation and very much appreciated its motivation, but were less optimistic than you about the contribution that the legislation might actually make to tackling corruption.

    • Thanks! I hadn’t seen these before. Both pieces raise very useful comments and criticisms. Let me think a bit more about them, and perhaps if I have the time I’ll write up some more substantive reactions. But for now, I’ll second your recommendation that interested readers check out these thoughtful critiques.

    • Let me follow up with a more substantive reaction to these pieces, starting with Nathaniel Heller’s piece in Foreign Policy. I think I agree with most of it, even though the tone of my post is more positive while the tone of Mr. Heller’s commentary is more negative. (It’s likely a classic glass-half-empty/glass-half-full difference in perspective.) To be a bit more specific, Mr. Heller raises three criticisms of the proposal (actually, last year’s version of the bill, but they sound pretty similar), and then two suggestions for improvement. The three criticisms are:

      1. The bill treats corruption “as a single, monolithic scourge,” rather than recognizing that there are many different kinds of corruption that require different sorts of response.

      2. The U.S. government is unlikely to be — or to be perceived as — impartial when ranking countries for corruption, especially when there are consequences for U.S. aid policy; rather, foreign policy considerations are likely to distort evaluations.

      3. It’s unclear how effective external ratings are in getting governments to change their behavior, and the evidence on this point from other programs is decidedly mixed.

      Let me respond to each of these criticisms in turn:

      On the first point, about corruption being a heterogeneous phenomenon, I sort of agree but I’m not sure I think this as serious a problem as Mr. Heller does. First, the available evidence (as I read it) suggests that although there are certainly many different kinds of corruption, and they don’t all necessarily go together, in practice they are usually highly correlated. And the bill itself calls for minimum standards that would in fact apply to a broad range of corrupt activity, so presumably a country that is doing OK in fighting some forms of corruption but not others would not get a top rating. So I guess I’m just not seeing why this is such a big problem, and I confess that I tend to be a bit impatient with the “there are lots of kinds of corruption” trope being trotted out as a kind of all-purpose criticism. That said, I do agree with at least two aspects of Mr. Heller’s point here: (1) As I noted in my original post, the remedies included in the bill make sense for certain kinds of corruption but not others; it’s not clear how (beyond naming and shaming) the bill is supposed to address high-level political corruption in countries that receive little or no U.S. aid. (2) The minimum standards are all about prosecuting and preventing within-country corruption, but don’t say much about facilitation activities.

      On the second point, about the U.S. government’s lack of impartiality in making these ratings, I very much agree with the concern, and emphasized it in my original post. The questions I would have are (1) how severe the problem is likely to be, and (2) whether the costs are outweighed by the benefits, which include raising the profile of corruption issues within the U.S. government. On the extent of the problem, I do think that the relative weakness of the “sanctions” could actually be helpful, as there’s less pressure to switch a country’s classification in order to authorize aid. Aid can still go to Tier 3 countries, but it just needs to be accompanied by heightened anticorruption safeguards. That makes it very different from the TVPA, for example.

      On the third point, I also agree, and as I noted in the original post, I’m not at all an expert in this subject and my impression of the positive impact of initiatives like the TVPA might be inaccurate. That said, if anything Mr. Heller’s post made me more rather than less confident, as his piece links to research (1) showing that the TVPA reports indeed did have an impact on countries’ criminalization of human trafficking, and (2) “name and shame” rankings are “less influential than publishing in-depth studies of national governance and transparency challenges.” That latter finding is presented in Mr. Heller’s piece as if it casts doubt on the enterprise, but I’d read it more optimistically: First, and more importantly, the proposed CGCA in fact calls for a detailed report, not just a ranking; second, the finding reported is a comparative one–in-depth reports are _more_ effective than name-and-shame rankings–but this doesn’t necessarily refute the idea that the rankings themselves can have an impact. And, if one believes that the important impacts of the program would be less the name-and-shame than (A) the greater attention to the issue within the U.S. government, and (B) the adoption of reasonable preventative measures, then this isn’t really such a big drawback.

      Mr. Heller’s two proposals to improve the bill flow from his second criticism in particular. He advocates (1) using reports prepared by external NGOs, rather than State Department evaluations, and (2) focusing on “objective” indicators (such as the adoption or non-adoption of specific pieces of legislation) rather than subjective assessments. I get the concern, but don’t think I really agree. Part of the point of the proposal, as I understand it, is to both draw on US State Department expertise, and to force the cultivation of more such expertise, in order to evaluate actual practices. Yes, that’s a subjective exercise, and yes, it has drawbacks, but it would also add something beyond existing “objective” governance indicators. If we’re worried, for example, about “under-inclusion” of low-performing countries in the “Tier 3,” then we need to compare two different risks: (1) the risk that subjective State Department evaluators will put a country that belongs in Tier 3 in Tiers 1 or 2 for political reasons, with (2) the risk that a country that appears to be in Tier 1 or 2 based on its “objective” adoption of specific formal laws and policies in fact belongs in Tier 3 because it doesn’t really implement those policies effectively or impartially. Both are genuine risks, but I’m instinctively much more worried about the second risk than the first risk. Mr. Heller’s proposals reduce risk #1 at the cost of exacerbating risk #2, and I’m not sure that trade-off is worth it.

    • I also took a look at the Michael Moses post you forwarded. Overall, I found Mr. Moses’s criticisms of the proposed legislation somewhat fuzzier and less compelling that Mr. Heller’s.

      Mr. Moses’s big theme is that the proposed legislation lacks an explicit “theory of change.” This seems to be an emerging trope in the policy analysis commentariat. Part of me is deeply sympathetic to the spirit of this criticism. Far too many proposals out there don’t seem to be based on any plausible mechanism liking the intervention to the hoped-for outcome, other than wishful thinking. And it’s always good to point out when no such mechanism appears to exist–or when the possible mechanisms are not consistent with the available evidence. At the same time, “You have no explicit theory of change!” seems to be gaining currency as an all-purpose criticism of just about any proposal, even when the hypothesized mechanisms are pretty straightforward.

      In the case of the CGCA, Mr. Moses asserts that “the link[] between reducing corruption and improving the transparency of foreign assistance … [is] extremely fuzzy.” I’m not sure I understand why he thinks so. Sure, the link is highly _uncertain_, in the sense that we don’t know if it will work. But that’s very different from asserting that there’s _no theory_ here. Of course there is. The thinking seems to be twofold: (1) If a country presents a very high corruption risk, there’s good reason to implement extra safeguards for US foreign aid, and (2) the fact that those safeguards may be burdensome or embarrassing for the recipient countries gives them an incentive to improve their performance. I agree that there’s a very good question as to why we shouldn’t increase anticorruption safeguards for foreign aid in all high-risk environments, regardless of the recipient government’s good-faith efforts. I emphasized this point in my original post, and if that’s what Mr. Moses is getting at, I’ll happily endorse his point, though I do think that framing this straightforward argument as due to the absence of a “theory of change” is more obscuring than enlightening.

      Mr. Moses also asks of the CGCA, “What would the tiering system … be used for, exactly? And by whom? And for what purpose? And how might that help limit corruption?” He asks these questions semi-rhetorically, but I think the idea is actually pretty clear. The tiering system would serve two functions: (1) identify high-risk countries where additional safeguards for foreign aid are appropriate; (2) name & shame. To these I’d add a third, emphasized in the original post: (3) raise the profile of, and attention to, corruption issues within the U.S. diplomatic community, in the hopes that increased attention to the problem will help generate more focus on finding solutions.

      More generally, when I read arguments about how every policy proposal needs an explicit “theory of change” — accompanied by an “adaptive learning approach,” which Mr. Moses also advocates for the CGCA — I have to wonder whether the people making these arguments have much experience with real-world policymaking. (I certainly don’t, as several of my colleagues are always happy to remind me.) Let me just quote what Mr. Moses offers as an alternative to the existing CGCA proposal:

      “[T]he legislation [should be] modeled on a clear [theory of change] that clarifies at least some of the assumptions on which it’s based and lays out a clear project logic. With this in place, legislators and implementing agencies could begin … by categorizing countries into tiers. As they did so, they’d gather evidence on the empirical outcomes that might emerge from the application of tiering. Having that evidence would then enable policy makers and their colleagues to engage in structured reflection. Are tiered countries becoming less corrupt? Are they working harder to stop graft? Is the methodology by which countries are ranked and categorized sound? What gaps in logic and assumptions have emerged during implementation of the law? Having explored these questions and others, legislators and implementers could then adapt the [theory of change] underpinning the law, and, for example, change the methodology of tiering, or come up with a new method of assessing/communicating corruption, or revise the legislation’s goals. They’d then iterate on their new approach, gather more data, and repeat the process.”

      It sounds nice and all, but not what one could reasonably hope from the United States Congress. And if we insist on this, we’re not going to get anywhere.

      • Thanks Matthew – I appreciate the thought you’re putting into the CGCA. As noted at the outset of my piece, I agree with you that the bill is commendably ambitious and well-intentioned.

        That said, I’m not sure your comment quite captures the thrust of my (admittedly, overly long and seemingly abstract!) post from 2016. So I’d like to make a quick(ish!) clarification.

        I’d argue that the theme of my piece isn’t “the CGCA lacks an explicit theory of change.” That’s part of it, sure. But rather, my point is that it’s useful to give attention to how the CGCA might be expected to work in practice. This is because the evidence on how countries respond to external ratings is, as Nathaniel points out (and as you acknowledge) mixed. It’s, at best, unclear that external corruption ratings, even if associated with aid conditionalities (such as the tiering that would take place under the CGCA), should reasonably be expected to translate into substantive anti-corruption safeguards that fit a particular country’s context.

        Given the paucity of compelling evidence re: the effectiveness of this kind of approach, and the inherently complex, political nature of governance reform, it’s therefore important that any attempt to address governance issues – including corruption – supports policy makers and implementers in better figuring out how they can be most effective, and how they can improve policy and its implementation over time.

        So what do we need in order to encourage the evidence and learning that helps policy makers and implementers, both here in the US and abroad, navigate the complexities of anti-corruption work? I’d argue there are three components:

        First, a clear causal logic laying out how the legislation is expected to make a difference. As you note, the CGCA meets this bar, though a touch implicitly. The basic idea seems to be that naming and shaming countries, and restricting US foreign assistance, will induce them to enact corruption reforms.

        Second, explicit acknowledgement of the assumptions underlying that causal logic. Here, the CGCA does less well – the legislation seems to assume that naming and shaming will provide incentives such that other countries will take meaningful action to reduce corruption. But given that this assumption isn’t made explicit, it’s a bit hard to tell.

        Third, reference to existing evidence that supports those assumptions. This, perhaps, is where the CGCA is most lacking – it’s unclear why we’d expect that naming and shaming will lead to meaningful change. Indeed, some evidence suggests that external ratings are, at best, ignored, and at worst, might encourage governments to enact reforms that perpetuate, rather than reduce corruption.

        Combine these three components, and more or less, you’ve got a theory of change – one that can help policymakers, and those charged with implementing the CGCA, to more easily check in on whether the bill’s aims are being achieved, whether its assumptions are accurate, and how the US might more effectively support countries that receive foreign assistance in tackling corruption.

        Given how the policy process works, is the CGCA ever likely to incorporate a theory of change? Probably not. As you rightly point out, “real world policymakers” aren’t likely to want to engage in this way. Still, I’d argue that encouraging policymakers to be explicit about logic, assumptions, and evidence can provide a better basis for reasoned debate – and for the kind of learning that will enable the effectiveness of a policy and its implementation to be improved over time.

        Thanks for the feedback on the post and the opportunity to respond.

        • Thanks for this thoughtful and detailed reply. At least some of my previous criticisms may have been based on a misunderstanding of your original argument, and it certainly seems that we agree much more that we disagree. That said, I do think there might be a mild residual difference in perspective. Let me try to start by summarizing the points on which I suspect we are fully in agreement:

          1. When proposing a new policy, one should have some sense of the mechanism through which the policy is expected to achieve its intended result.

          2. It’s not enough just to specify a plausible causal mechanism. Ideally, one would want some reason to believe that the causal mechanism will actually work. Expecting conclusive empirical evidence is probably too much to ask, but we should at least be aware of the overall strength of the evidence supporting the conclusion that the policy intervention will work as expected.

          3. Though the CGCA’s proponents haven’t necessarily spelled it out explicitly in the statute or their accompanying press releases, the hypothesized causal mechanism for how the CGCA is supposed to effect change is pretty straightforward.

          4. Whether this causal mechanism will actually work in practice is highly uncertain, given the mixed evidence on past initiatives and the overall complexity of the problem.

          5. If the U.S. does go ahead and enact something like the CGCA, it will be important to monitor what happens and learn from the evidence generated to improve both the CGCA and other policy interventions in the future.

          That all seems right, and pretty straightforward: We should do things that we have good reason to believe will work, or at least be worthwhile experiments. And we should base our policy choices on the best available evidence, rather than wishful thinking. We should learn from experience. All true and important — though uncontroversial in principle and easier said than done in practice.

          If we have a point of disagreement, it concerns what we should expect to appear in the text of legislation itself. Again, I don’t disagree that advocates of legislation should have some idea how it will achieve its intended impact, and that this should be based on clear logic and available evidence. But I don’t expect, or particularly want, that the text of the legislation itself should include “explicit acknowledgement of the assumptions underlying [the] causal logic” and “reference to existing evidence that supports those assumptions.” Yeah, that should be _somewhere_… but it’s more than a bit unfair to look at the text of the legislation, not see any explicit discussion of causal logic and evidence, and then criticize the whole enterprise. The legislation is mostly operative legal language (along with some broad statements of purpose), not a policy analysis brief. The text of the U.S. Affordable Care Act, long as it was, didn’t itself include an economic analysis of the health insurance market and a discussion of the evidence for why an individual mandate would solve the adverse selection problem. But would it have been a reasonable criticism of the ACA to say that the statute itself doesn’t include any “explicit acknowledgement of the assumptions underlying [its] causal logic” or “reference to existing evidence that supports those assumptions”?

          And this leads me to my more general criticism of the “theory of change” trope, and criticisms that claim proposals like the CGCA don’t have a sufficiently clearly articulated theory of change: I think sometimes this can be a way to avoid having the debate openly about the merits. Instead of saying “Your theory of change is wrong,” we can say “You have no explicit theory of change.” And then we can get wrapped up in fairly abstract discussions about what a “theory of change” is, and positing general frameworks for adaptive learning, and so forth. But the conversation we should really be happening is more straightforward: Will a statute like the CGCA work? I take it you think the answer is No, based on what we’ve seen with other programs that rely on naming & shaming. I’m a bit more optimistic, though I confess I’m no expert, partly because some of the evidence does seem to suggest a positive effect from past programs, partly because the CGCA doesn’t rely only on shaming (but also includes preventive measures in high-risk environments), and partly because I think the downside risk is low enough that it’s worth experimenting here. But that’s the conversation we–and others–should be having. We should be debating whether this will work, not having “meta” conversations about whether the bill’s drafters did enough to make explicit their assumptions and evidence why it might work.

          • Thanks Matthew – agreed that we’re more on the same page than not. We should certainly be debating whether the CGCA will work in practice – not having some abstract “meta” conversation. I’d argue that having a substantive debate on the design and implementation of the bill would be more productive if we also had more clarity on the logic, assumptions, and evidence on which the CGCA is based. And my impression is that those components haven’t yet been spelled out for the CGCA – so it’s hard to assess why and how its authors think it will reduce corruption.

            And yes, you’re right that it may not make sense to put those items in the legislative text itself. But they should be made clear somewhere – so that we can have a better informed discussion about the CGCA’s strengths and weaknesses.

  2. I’m similarly pessimistic about the bill’s chances of passing out of committee, let alone into law, on the basis of Congress’s general ineffectualness these days. Though the bipartisan sponsorship is maybe some reason for hope. But are there also particular constituencies in Congress (or lobbying groups who have the ears of legislators) that you anticipate being strongly opposed to the legislation? Put another way, is the type of bill that, if it ends up on the cutting room floor, does so because of a significant adverse response or just because of indifference/neglect? Have there been similar proposals put forward in the past, and if so, what happened to them?

  3. Thanks Matthew for this thoughtful analysis and discussion of the CGCA.

    The proposed CGCA approach reminds me of the State Department’s Fiscal Transparency Report, which rates countries on the degree to which they meet a set of “minimum fiscal transparency requirements”, and indicates whether governments that did not meet the minimum fiscal transparency requirements made significant progress toward meeting the requirements during the review. The most interesting part of the report, in my opinion, are the government assessments, in which State details where governments fell short of the Department’s minimum requirements of fiscal transparency and provides specific recommendations that those governments should take to improve fiscal transparency, as well as qualitative descriptions of any progress that was made.

    The report isn’t perfect, and one can rightfully suggest that the International Budget Partnership’s survey & index are qualitatively better, but there’s value in having the ratings come from the US State Department, given the gravitas and visibility that inherently carries. On its surface, it’s a worthy exercise, and I’ve heard firsthand from people who have worked on the report that the “name and shame” element has motivated governments to improve. But it’s difficult to assess the report’s overall impact based on a couple of anecdotal accounts.

    What’s interesting – and disappointing – is that few people seem to know about the report, and fewer advocacy organizations are using it, at least as far as I’m aware. For “naming and shaming” to be effective, people (and the media) need to be talking about it. If they aren’t, then it’s less likely that governments will pay much mind, and more likely that the US government agency tasked with implementing it (e.g. State Department) will push back and seek ways to avoid undertaking the laborious process required to fulfill the mandate.

  4. Greetings, this blog makes some great posts. In reply to your comment on the objection that “It’s unclear how effective external ratings are in getting governments to change their behavior, and the evidence on this point from other programs is decidedly mixed,” but that you have a positive impression of the effectiveness of the TVPA which created a similar grading scheme for human trafficking, I’d like to point to my work coming out this month with Cambridge University Press: Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to influence Their Reputation and Behavior ( diplomacy). In this book, I provide ample evidence for the effectiveness of the TVPA grading scheme and explain the dynamics that lead some such grading schemes to be effective. The introduction to the book can be found here: In addition, Beth Simmons and I have been working on a larger project with a team of other scholars who investigate different grading schemes around the world and find many of them to be effective. Our own work focuses on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index which has also been quite effective at getting countries to undertake certain types of regulatory reform. Interestingly though, one of the contributions to the project studies Transparency International’s corruptions ratings and finds that these have not influenced donors to decrease their aid to the most corrupt contrives. Thus, the clincher for the US scheme to grade countries on corruption, as I argue in my book, is the extent to which the grades are connected with other forms of meaningful engagement that signal the seriousness of the ratings. As long as the US government is not willing to punish corrupt governments or make the corruption a central discussion point, as it has been willing to do in the case of trafficking in persons, the grades may have little effect. If, however, the government promotes significant publicity and draws diplomatic attention to the issue, the grades may well prove a useful tool.

    • The first chapter in Dean Kelley’s Scorecard Diplomacy contains what I would think more than suffices as a theory of change justifying approval of the bill. Indeed, by the standards governing passage of legislation by the American Congress her analysis far, far exceeds what is necessary.

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