How to Cut U.S. Funding for Multilaterals? The UK Way

This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz.

As Congress looks for cost savings, a logical first step would be to compare the various investments the USG makes to figure out what gets taxpayers the highest returns. One debate is bilateral versus multilateral, and the administration has signaled a preference toward the latter wherever possible (this is debatable, but an argument for another day).

But what about choices among the two dozen or so multilateral development agencies that receive U.S. funding? The latest House bill slashes funding for several UN agencies. This might be a good or a bad thing, but how to think about these tradeoffs?

The British government tried to answer this very question with its Multilateral Aid Review which measured "value for money" by scoring each international agency that receives UK funding based on "organizational strength" and "contribution to British development objectives." The result is this pretty figure.

Description: MDG : Getting out of poverty , Lusaka , Zambia : Doctors perform cataract surgery

Here's the rub: the UK then used this scorecard to inform spending allocations. Partly based on the review, the Brits actually increased funding for top performers (e.g., IDA, UNICEF, GAVI) while those at the very bottom (UN-HABITAT, ILO, UNIDO, UNISDR) are being zeroed out. Sensible evidence-based cuts: How refreshing!

So, with an eye to U.S. budget battles, we asked what an American version might look like, and here is our answer:

Description: MDG : Getting out of poverty , Lusaka , Zambia : Doctors perform cataract surgery

Notes: Bubble sizes represent relative U.S. contributions to each organization in 2009; color-coding represents the quartiles of an overall index multiplying scores on both dimensions.

This is not a very precise exercise (more details on our methodology here, but it does give a first cut at some of the tradeoffs. If we are going to fund some multilaterals and not others, then this could, we hope, at least provoke a conversation about relative value.