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Database Provides Transparency on Foreign Aid

U.S. Army soldiers meet with local Afghan official

(U.S. Navy Photo)

The United States plans to spend $8.77 billion in foreign aid for security this year. The government’s resources and information, however, lack accessibility and transparency necessary for citizens to oversee the use of their tax dollars.

Labeled as “a citizen’s guide to U.S. security and defense assistance,” the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) is an interactive database of U.S. security and defense programs worldwide that enables decision-makers and the public access to and an understanding of the information needed to oversee security spending. Understanding and overseeing the United States’ security assistance spending is not just important to those working on foreign aid—the SAM specifies that the data is presented in a manner meant to assist policymakers, the media, scholars, NGOs, and the public as a whole.

While the database is a program of the Center for International Policy, it is created in collaboration with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, Project on Middle East Democracy and Washington Office on Latin America.

The information that the Center for International Policy offers in SAM is entirely public information, compiled from United States government statements, news links, NGO analyses, and legislation.

Security Assistance Monitor website screenshot

It is not the information, per se, that makes the Security Assistance Monitor a key resource in conducting oversight, but the convenient compilation of information into one user-friendly format. The interactive nature of SAM makes the database accessible to a wide range of audiences.

When looking for information about security and defense programs, one can search the database by country, program, region, and type of assistance. Updated daily (unlike the government’s websites and reports), the SAM brings security assistance into the eye of the everyday citizen.

The Security Assistance Monitor also hosts a blog that puts the information into context and shows trends of U.S. foreign aid. The SAM blog introduces and explains laws relevant to security assistance, like the Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from assisting any foreign military or police unit that has violated human rights. The database and blog complement each other, bringing transparency that allows the public to be aware of and oversee the use of their tax dollars for security assistance.

Transparency is crucial to citizens overseeing their government and holding their elected officials accountable. While the federal government should provide such information in an accessible manner, until it does, the public can rely on the work of nonprofits like the Center for International Policy.

By: Katie Cooney
Intern, POGO

katie-cooney Katie Cooney is an intern at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government, National Security

Related Content: Financial Oversight, U.S. Foreign Aid

Authors: Katie Cooney

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