Ten Ways Washington Can Confront Global Corruption

In 2018, pub­lic anger and legal action over cor­rup­tion have top­pled polit­i­cal lead­ers in Malaysia, Peru, Slovakia, South Africa, and oth­er coun­tries. This is an accel­er­a­tion of a doc­u­ment­ed trend: more than 10 per­cent of nations around the world have expe­ri­enced cor­rup­tion-fueled polit­i­cal change in the last five years. And these cas­es of peace­ful tran­si­tion rep­re­sent the best-case sce­nario; else­where, cor­rup­tion has fueled ter­ror­ist recruit­ment and sparked vio­lent insurgencies.

In addi­tion to rock­ing geopo­lit­i­cal foun­da­tions, cor­rup­tion-linked insta­bil­i­ty threat­ens the integri­ty and dura­bil­i­ty of U.S. alliances, increas­ing the bur­dens placed on the U.S. mil­i­tary. International cor­rup­tion also cuts to the heart of U.S. eco­nom­ic interests—thwarting the com­pet­i­tive­ness of U.S. cor­po­ra­tions as bids are divert­ed to the high­est briber. Overall, the World Bank esti­mates $1.5 tril­lion in bribes are paid every year, squan­der­ing busi­ness cap­i­tal and stymy­ing devel­op­ment. Russia and China have weaponized cor­rup­tion in sev­er­al weak states to gain influ­ence, win deals, and under­mine sov­er­eign­ty. And across Latin America, cor­rupt­ed offi­cials are more like­ly to turn a blind eye at the bor­der, enabling the traf­fick­ing of illic­it drugs, weapons, and migrants toward the United States. The December 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) ref­er­ences these dynamics.

Yet, in prac­tice, the admin­is­tra­tion of U.S. President Donald Trump has bro­ken lit­tle new ground when it comes to fight­ing cor­rup­tion. Here are ten ideas for doing more that could be imple­ment­ed imme­di­ate­ly. The first half are new exter­nal ini­tia­tives that would serve as lega­cy achieve­ments of appointees at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), though career offi­cials could also pur­sue them. The sec­ond half are inter­nal actions that the State Department or USAID could pur­sue that—while not flashy or high-profile—would yield a sub­stan­tial impact and could be exe­cut­ed by ener­getic work­ing-lev­el staff. The extent to which these offi­cers remain cre­ative, per­sis­tent, and proac­tive on anticorruption—using the NSS as a form of top cover—will be decisive.

1. Launch a Rapid Response Fund

Political will is essen­tial for anti­cor­rup­tion reform and infa­mous­ly dif­fi­cult to cre­ate from the outside—as years of nation-build­ing can attest. As a result, donors must antic­i­pate and quick­ly cap­i­tal­ize on home­grown open­ings when they emerge. USAID’s analy­sis of 300 past anti­cor­rup­tion pro­grams estab­lished the impor­tance of focus­ing on such ripe opportunities.

Upswings in polit­i­cal will often occur in the wake of a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that results in a change of gov­ern­ment. Yet pub­lic out­rage tends to be short-lived. According to research by Carnegie senior fel­low Rachel Kleinfeld, a new reform-ori­ent­ed admin­is­tra­tion has to act quick­ly to take advan­tage of momen­tum before oppo­nents can regroup. As polit­i­cal will fades, pub­lic dis­il­lu­sion­ment deep­ens, erod­ing state legit­i­ma­cy further.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment can help break that cycle by estab­lish­ing a ded­i­cat­ed tranche of flex­i­ble fund­ing to boost sup­port for local reform­ers try­ing to quick­ly deliv­er on reform promis­es. Doing so would address three gaps in cur­rent U.S. anti­cor­rup­tion pro­gram­ming: it is small in size ($115 mil­lion annu­al­ly) and thus not pro­por­tion­al to U.S. inter­ests; it lacks geo­graph­ic flex­i­bil­i­ty, with most funds allo­cat­ed to coun­try accounts; and it lacks tem­po­ral flex­i­bil­i­ty, with pro­gram­ming typ­i­cal­ly planned two years in advance. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has the statu­to­ry author­i­ties and cul­ture to address the lat­ter two fac­tors, but the office focus­es on con­flict set­tings rather than open­ings for gov­er­nance reform.

Such an ini­tia­tive could be fund­ed through nor­mal appropriations—ideally ear­marked for this purpose—or a cost-shar­ing arrange­ment with the pri­vate sec­tor or the World Bank (see pro­pos­al 3 below). The State Department should be in the lead—as diplo­mats are front­line sen­sors of changes in polit­i­cal will—and work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with Central Intelligence Agency fore­cast­ers and USAID pro­gram­ming experts.

Allocations from this new ini­tia­tive, which could be called the Governance Opportunities Fund, could be dis­bursed through a range of structures:

  • a con­sor­tium of pre­s­e­lect­ed grantees, mod­eled on the Fundamental Freedoms Fund;
  • a quar­ter­ly grant com­pe­ti­tion across embassies—an expand­ed ver­sion of the Fiscal Transparency Innovation Fund; or
  • a stand­ing fund­ing pool that ambas­sadors could tap into to assist local anti­cor­rup­tion efforts—comparable to USAID’s Disaster Assistance Authority, from which ambas­sadors can quick­ly access up to $50,000 for emergencies.

This fund would com­ple­ment the Center for International Private Enterprise’s nascent Rapid-Reaction Anti-Corruption Project, which will deploy inter­na­tion­al experts to coun­tries expe­ri­enc­ing polit­i­cal open­ings for reform. These experts will pro­duce rec­om­men­da­tions for inter­na­tion­al donors, but those rec­om­men­da­tions will go unmet with­out a cor­re­spond­ing capac­i­ty to quick­ly mobi­lize resources in the U.S. gov­ern­ment and else­where. If win­dows of oppor­tu­ni­ty are tar­get­ed, progress that might oth­er­wise take gen­er­a­tions to achieve can be spurred.

2. Create a Network of Reformers

Even dur­ing win­dows of oppor­tu­ni­ty, zeal­ous reform­ers can quick­ly get derailed, dis­tract­ed, or—in the most extreme cases—disappeared. These lead­ers often have access to tech­ni­cal advice but need help nav­i­gat­ing treach­er­ous polit­i­cal ter­rain. The United States could sup­port them by launch­ing a glob­al net­work of reform­ers, com­posed of new­ly mint­ed gov­ern­ment offi­cials seek­ing anti­cor­rup­tion impact. The net­work would sup­port these reform­ers before they flame out or get co-opt­ed by pro­vid­ing var­i­ous services:

  • Executive coach­ing: Drawing on what is termed the Adaptive Leadership frame­work and orga­ni­za­tion­al change man­age­ment, par­tic­i­pants would map out poten­tial allies and spoil­ers and would devel­op strate­gies for sus­tain­ing pub­lic support.
  • Subject mat­ter exper­tise: Participants would ana­lyze inter­na­tion­al lessons for triag­ing and sequenc­ing anti­cor­rup­tion pri­or­i­ties. For exam­ple, high-pro­file pros­e­cu­tions pro­vide use­ful quick wins, but pre­ven­tion efforts (such as e‑government plat­forms or pro­cure­ment reform) often offer more endur­ing impact and invite less backlash.
  • Solidarity: Peer men­tor­ship can pro­vide prac­ti­cal advice and mutu­al account­abil­i­ty. That vision drove the cre­ation of the World Bank’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance, which focus­es on law enforce­ment. Lessons could be drawn from the Justice Leadership Group, an orga­ni­za­tion that fos­ters men­tor­ship rela­tion­ships between for­mer and cur­rent jus­tice officials.

For such a net­work to be com­pelling to reformist nation­al leaders—such as South Africa’s new pres­i­dent, Cyril Ramaphosa—it would need to be elite and dis­creet. It could be linked to exist­ing groups like the Elders and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, or it could be con­vened by an offi­cial with anti­cor­rup­tion cre­den­tials like for­mer UK prime min­is­ter David Cameron. A pilot tar­get­ing sub­na­tion­al lead­ers could be a com­po­nent of the Integrity Cities ini­tia­tive (see pro­pos­al 4 below). It would be best for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to launch such a net­work with oth­er donors, as was done with the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium.

3. Incubate a Public-Private Partnership

The Departments of State or Commerce could launch a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship (PPP) to pro­vide a plat­form for busi­ness­es to invest in anti­cor­rup­tion reform. Why would com­pa­nies want to do so? Compared to oth­er forms of cor­po­rate social responsibility—such as build­ing schools—combating cor­rup­tion ties direct­ly to a company’s self-inter­est in improv­ing over­seas invest­ment climates.

In addi­tion, com­pa­nies like General Electric and Unilever may want to con­tin­ue sig­nal­ing their pro-com­pli­ance val­ues. Prospective donors could be drawn from the ranks of sec­tor-spe­cif­ic col­lec­tive action mech­a­nisms like the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, coun­try-spe­cif­ic integri­ty net­works facil­i­tat­ed by the UN Global Compact, and those that have obtained antib­ribery com­pli­ance cer­ti­fi­ca­tion based on new International Organization for Standardization stan­dards. For these corporations—which have already com­mit­ted to not pay bribes—it is valu­able to reduce demand for bribes to stay com­pet­i­tive. After the group’s rep­u­ta­tion is estab­lished, the PPP could admit com­pa­nies eager for so-called rep­u­ta­tion­al reha­bil­i­ta­tion fol­low­ing a bribery inves­ti­ga­tion. Just as Siemens launched its $100 mil­lion Integrity Initiative as part of its cor­rup­tion-relat­ed set­tle­ment with the World Bank, com­pa­nies like Odebrecht may soon seek anti­cor­rup­tion invest­ment vehi­cles, either vol­un­tar­i­ly or as part of settlements.

How would the funds be used? The PPP could bankroll the rapid response fund above or an ini­tia­tive tar­get­ing the invest­ment cli­mate in strate­gic loca­tions. Alternatively, sup­port could be chan­neled through the new Open Government Partnership (OGP) Multi-Donor Trust Fund, host­ed by the World Bank. Companies could pro­vide finan­cial or in-kind sup­port. In the lat­ter instance, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms could offer toll-free calls to cor­rup­tion hot­lines and law firms could assist with leg­isla­tive reform. The ini­tia­tive could build on lessons from the Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan—estab­lished in 2007 by then sec­re­tary of state Condoleezza Rice; this ini­tia­tive received over $1.3 mil­lion in mon­e­tary and in-kind con­tri­bu­tions from U.S. law firms.

The con­ven­ing pow­er of the U.S. gov­ern­ment would help jump­start the PPP and broad­en its reach. The part­ner­ship would also ben­e­fit from incu­ba­tion at Boldline, a PPP accel­er­a­tor recent­ly co-launched by the State Department.

4. Think Globally, Act Municipally

No gov­ern­ment is a mono­lith. Even if klep­toc­ra­cy reigns at senior lev­els, pock­ets of reform at low­er lev­els can prove that cor­rup­tion is not inevitable, spark­ing broad­er calls for reform. While “islands of integri­ty” rarely pro­duce sys­temic change, and may be quashed, they pro­vide use­ful pilot cas­es. Particular oppor­tu­ni­ties exist in cities. As urban­iza­tion con­tin­ues, sub­na­tion­al gov­ern­ments have an increas­ing­ly large share of the burden—and the budget—for ser­vice deliv­ery. As a result, they can be vital inno­va­tors on anti­cor­rup­tion and raise cit­i­zen expec­ta­tions at the nation­al lev­el, a mod­el pilot­ed by Partners Global.

To jump­start these efforts, the Departments of State and Commerce could launch an Integrity Cities Initiative, a forum for munic­i­pal­i­ties to exchange good prac­tices and com­mit to rig­or­ous stan­dards for pub­lic pro­cure­ment. Inspired by the suc­cess of TRACE, an “anti-bribery busi­ness orga­ni­za­tion,” in admin­is­ter­ing a “seal of approval” to com­pa­nies meet­ing high stan­dards of antib­ribery com­pli­ance, accred­i­ta­tion as an “integri­ty city” would draw new invest­ment and expand mar­kets for U.S. exports. The ini­tia­tive could incor­po­rate lessons from sim­i­lar projects, includ­ing the Strong Cities Network (which the United States co-launched to sup­port coun­ter­ing vio­lent extrem­ism) and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (which address­es cli­mate change). The project could part­ner with OGP Local, a nascent pro­gram that facil­i­tates peer learn­ing and the devel­op­ment of sub­na­tion­al action plans.

5. Elevate and Coordinate Internally

Within the Department of State and USAID them­selves, the cause of anti­cor­rup­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly been buried at the expert lev­el, with incon­sis­tent senior-lev­el atten­tion. While that has start­ed to change in recent years, there is room for sub­stan­tial expan­sion. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could name a senior anti­cor­rup­tion cham­pi­on, as the UK has done, to coor­di­nate and dri­ve efforts, and he could ask region­al bureaus to each iden­ti­fy a deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary (DAS) to cov­er account­able gov­er­nance. Similar to the des­ig­na­tion of DASs with an eco­nom­ics port­fo­lio in the last admin­is­tra­tion, this new cadre of DASs could meet reg­u­lar­ly to address a num­ber of issues:

  • Building an acces­si­ble inven­to­ry of anti­cor­rup­tion pro­gram­ming across the State Department, USAID, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
  • Mainstreaming cor­rup­tion con­sid­er­a­tions into coun­try- and region-spe­cif­ic strate­gies. For exam­ple, this could entail incor­po­rat­ing into rel­e­vant Africa strate­gies greater atten­tion on hard­en­ing coun­tries against China’s use of cor­rup­tion to buy influ­ence and win contracts.
  • Expanding train­ing. The twice-year­ly anti­cor­rup­tion course at the Foreign Service Institute could be sup­ple­ment­ed by in-region train­ings for embassy offi­cers, as was done in Europe in 2015.
  • Creating a new inter­a­gency award for lead­er­ship in the pro­mo­tion of account­able gov­er­nance, in line with oth­er themed awards for front­line officers.

Similarly, the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty could scale up col­lec­tion, analy­sis, and dis­sem­i­na­tion of prod­ucts on klep­to­crats and their net­works, includ­ing via updates to the National Intelligence Priorities Framework. Pertinent cor­rup­tion infor­ma­tion could be incor­po­rat­ed into clas­si­fied biogra­phies on for­eign offi­cials so that the United States can pick its part­ners care­ful­ly and spot cor­rup­tion risks. These steps would help meet the con­gres­sion­al require­ment (in the 2017 and 2018 appro­pri­a­tion bills) to report on for­eign “net­works of cor­rup­tion.” Moreover, deci­sions about who receives funds from the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty should be made at a suf­fi­cient­ly senior lev­el and should be sub­ject to inter­a­gency debate.

New senior cham­pi­ons at the State Department, at USAID, in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, and/or on the National Security Council could col­lab­o­rate on inte­grat­ed anti­cor­rup­tion strate­gies for key coun­tries or issue sets. This effort could build on the suc­cess­es of the two dozen posts in Central and Eastern Europe that devel­oped anti­cor­rup­tion action plans start­ing in 2014. The UK under­took a sim­i­lar ini­tia­tive in 2012 for all twen­ty-eight coun­tries where the UK Department for International Development oper­ates, and London has now incor­po­rat­ed anti­cor­rup­tion com­po­nents into annu­al oper­a­tional plans. Officers could proac­tive­ly help posts apply the anti­cor­rup­tion toolk­it that the State Department and USAID devel­oped in 2016, a toolk­it that con­sol­i­dates high­lights from the prac­ti­tion­er guides of the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and USAID.

6. Enhance Positive Incentives for Reformers

Name-and-shame approach­es to fight­ing cor­rup­tion have lim­its. Kleptocrats shield them­selves from rep­u­ta­tion­al risk domes­ti­cal­ly by lim­it­ing access to infor­ma­tion and smear­ing glob­al cor­rup­tion rank­ings as man­i­fes­ta­tions of Western impe­ri­al­ism. Critiques from the United States are increas­ing­ly dis­missed as hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Yet even author­i­tar­i­ans may tol­er­ate mod­est reform if it improves GDP or keeps polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty at bay. The U.S. gov­ern­ment can cre­ative­ly lever­age these moti­va­tions by expand­ing the car­rots in its anti­cor­rup­tion toolkit.

Incorporating trans­paren­cy and anti­cor­rup­tion pro­vi­sions into trade agree­ments is one pow­er­ful tool. The last admin­is­tra­tion devel­oped mod­el trans­paren­cy and anti­cor­rup­tion stan­dards in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that could be adapt­ed for revi­sions to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). One com­po­nent of these stan­dards should be press­ing eco­nom­ic com­peti­tors to crack down on bribes that their com­pa­nies pay over­seas. Curbing the mis­con­duct of these com­pa­nies (and the will­ful neg­li­gence of their home gov­ern­ments) fits square­ly in an America First trade agen­da. Similarly, the United States could cre­ate incen­tives for com­peti­tors to accede to the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement, which the United States signed in 2014.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment can also press inter­na­tion­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions to make cor­rup­tion a big­ger part of their lend­ing analy­sis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is mod­el­ing this approach in Ukraine, where $17.5 bil­lion in assis­tance was tied to meet­ing anti­cor­rup­tion con­di­tions, with strong U.S. sup­port. The IMF appears to be extend­ing that approach else­where. Similarly, the MCC’s require­ment that coun­tries pass a “con­trol of cor­rup­tion” thresh­old to unlock com­pact assistance—typically around $300 million—can be a pow­er­ful boost to reform, as seen in Côte d’Ivoire. After fail­ing on fif­teen of the twen­ty indi­ca­tors on the MCC’s annu­al score­card in 2013, Côte d’Ivoire’s prime min­is­ter charged a team with improv­ing cor­rup­tion con­trols; by 2015, the coun­try passed on thir­teen indi­ca­tors and was award­ed a com­pact. The U.S. gov­ern­ment can lever­age the MCC as a short-term incen­tive for reform by ensur­ing that coun­tries eager to improve their cor­rup­tion scores can access the tech­ni­cal assis­tance nec­es­sary to suc­ceed, per­haps through the rapid response fund (see pro­pos­al 1).

In con­junc­tion with its annu­al Award for Corporate Excellence, the State Department could estab­lish a recur­ring cat­e­go­ry for integri­ty lead­er­ship, select­ing a busi­ness that is pro­mot­ing pri­vate-sec­tor col­lec­tive action against bribery. As part of the award cer­e­mo­ny, U.S. offi­cials and trade groups could high­light the eco­nom­ic costs of cor­rup­tion and share suc­cess sto­ries for avoid­ing cor­rup­tion (such as through integri­ty pacts).

Finally, the United States could explore ways to offer a pref­er­ence in fed­er­al pub­lic pro­cure­ment for com­pa­nies with strong antib­ribery com­pli­ance pro­grams. Such an incen­tive would align with the Organization for Economic Co-oper­a­tion and Development’s (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and rec­om­men­da­tions from the B20 (a G20 forum for the pri­vate sec­tor). This pref­er­ence could be a milder ver­sion of the require­ments now imple­ment­ed in some jurisdictions—such as the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro—where com­pa­nies must have an integri­ty com­pli­ance pro­gram to com­pete for pub­lic tenders.

7. Safeguard Security Sector Assistance

Mechanisms exist to address the most egre­gious forms of fraud, waste, and abuse in U.S. assis­tance, yet more sub­tle forms of leak­age can per­sist. The most gap­ing vulnerability—and the most dan­ger­ous one—is secu­ri­ty sec­tor assis­tance; asso­ci­at­ed funds or weapons that are divert­ed may direct­ly imper­il U.S. inter­ests. In 2015, bribery and bid-rig­ging in an Afghan Ministry of Defense fuel con­tract increased costs to the Afghan gov­ern­ment and U.S. tax­pay­ers by more than $214 mil­lion. Have the gaps that pro­duced that prob­lem been corrected?

Not entire­ly. Embassies and intel­li­gence agen­cies are not reg­u­lar­ly tasked with assess­ing secu­ri­ty sec­tor cor­rup­tion in advance of new assis­tance agree­ments. Department of Defense offi­cers at post have lit­tle train­ing in iden­ti­fy­ing which units have been crim­i­nal­ly cap­tured or are using coer­cive mech­a­nisms to extract rents. When cor­rup­tion is dis­cov­ered, offi­cers do not always report it back to head­quar­ters, out of fear that pro­grams will be cut off automatically.

Risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures are also applied uneven­ly. Sometimes offi­cers pri­or­i­tize assis­tance that can­not be eas­i­ly pil­fered (such as train­ing instead of equip­ment) or require addi­tion­al end-use mon­i­tor­ing. Yet at oth­er times, some loss of U.S. assis­tance may be seen as inevitable and accept­able. Frequently, these deci­sions are made at the coun­try lev­el, on a case-by-case basis, with­out full infor­ma­tion. For instance, U.S. secu­ri­ty assis­tance flowed into Nigeria in 2014 with­out ade­quate aware­ness that, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, Nigeria’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er was alleged­ly steal­ing $2.1 bil­lion in pub­lic funds—leav­ing sol­diers under­fed, under­paid, and unable to defend cit­i­zens against Boko Haram.

In such con­texts, U.S. secu­ri­ty assis­tance must meet its first oblig­a­tion: do no harm. U.S. inter­ven­tions some­times fall short of this stan­dard, as the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has doc­u­ment­ed in dev­as­tat­ing detail. There are sev­er­al steps that the Departments of Defense and State can take to avoid inad­ver­tent­ly fuel­ing cor­rup­tion via secu­ri­ty assistance:

  • Instituting manda­to­ry cor­rup­tion risk assess­ments and mit­i­ga­tion plans, approved by senior lead­er­ship, for assis­tance above a par­tic­u­lar thresh­old. A use­ful pilot would be robust imple­men­ta­tion of the new strat­e­gy on pre­vent­ing cor­rup­tion in U.S. recon­struc­tion efforts, tasked in the National Defense Authorization Act for fis­cal year 2018. Congress has con­sid­ered requir­ing broad­er risk assess­ments, as reflect­ed in the draft State Department Authorities Act for fis­cal year 2018.
  • Applying prin­ci­ples advanced by the Open Contracting Partnership to secu­ri­ty assis­tance agree­ments, includ­ing ben­e­fi­cial own­er­ship dec­la­ra­tions, with lim­it­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty waivers.
  • Focusing assis­tance in high-risk places on defense insti­tu­tion build­ing, which could be an empha­sis of the new­ly cre­at­ed Security Force Assistance Brigades.
  • Conditioning bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty assis­tance on domes­tic trans­paren­cy and pro­cure­ment reforms, as has been sug­gest­ed in Ukraine.

The good news is that momen­tum for reform exists. The United States demon­strat­ed ear­ly progress by includ­ing cor­rup­tion ques­tions in the 2016 Framework for Policy Review and Risk Analysis of Proposed Security Sector Assistance Activities (doc­u­ment­ed by OGP) and the new per­for­mance man­age­ment approach. Lessons could be learned from the Partner Vetting System pilot (insti­tut­ed to min­i­mize the risk of U.S. funds ben­e­fit­ing ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions) and USAID’s Public Financial Management Risk Assessment Framework (which guides gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment devel­op­ment assistance).

8. Expand Public Diplomacy

While pop­u­lar protests are fuel­ing reforms in some places, pop­u­lar accep­tance of cor­rup­tion is cal­ci­fy­ing the sta­tus quo in oth­ers. Problems con­cern­ing pub­lic mindsets—such as the Brazilian public’s con­tin­ued sup­port for for­mer pres­i­dent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva despite cor­rup­tion convictions—cannot be solved with insti­tu­tion­al reform. These prob­lems require pub­lic engage­ment strate­gies that prove that clean­er gov­er­nance is pos­si­ble. Such efforts are gain­ing momen­tum. For exam­ple, Integrity Idol—a project of the U.S.-based non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion Accountability Lab—“names and fames” bureau­crats who are defy­ing the odds to serve the pub­lic. The U.S. gov­ern­ment can ampli­fy these efforts through its alum­ni pro­grams and embassy-based events, help­ing to over­come pub­lic resignation.

To that end, the recent uptick in U.S. pub­lic diplo­ma­cy on anti­cor­rup­tion could be sus­tained. Participants in the State Department’s anti­cor­rup­tion-themed International Visitor Leadership Programs could gath­er on the mar­gins of the bian­nu­al International Anti-Corruption Conference to fos­ter peer sup­port. The U.S. Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) estab­lished a pub­lic man­age­ment track and the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative cre­at­ed a course on trans­paren­cy and good gov­er­nance. These pro­grams could deep­en their cur­ric­u­la by part­ner­ing with Transparency International’s train­ing pro­gram for future lead­ers or the International Anti-Corruption Academy. In addi­tion, a con­cert­ed effort should be made to incor­po­rate alum­ni from YALI and sim­i­lar pro­grams into State Department and USAID for­eign assis­tance programs.

Many of these young entre­pre­neurs are burst­ing with cre­ative anti­cor­rup­tion ideas that should be cul­ti­vat­ed. YALI’s Transparency Small Grants Competi­tion was a step in the right direc­tion, but resources need to match demand. The State Department also orga­nizes tech camps—hackathons that link pri­vate sec­tor tech­nol­o­gists and local stake­hold­ers to address real-world chal­lenges—some of which have focused on anti­cor­rup­tion themes. These forums pro­vide fruit­ful out­lets for sur­fac­ing new ideas, but they require more sus­tained fol­low-on sup­port, per­haps in part­ner­ship with the Organization of American States’ Open Gov Fellowship, the non­prof­it col­lab­o­ra­tive group Civic Hall, or the PPP described in pro­pos­al 3. The State Department should use its con­ven­ing pow­er to seed part­ner­ships and shift the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion on account­able governance.

9. Maximize Multilateral and Sanction Tools

Achieving greater impact from exist­ing tools is just as impor­tant as cre­at­ing new ones. This prin­ci­ple applies to robust U.S. lead­er­ship in mul­ti­lat­er­al ini­tia­tives. Given the transna­tion­al nature of cor­rup­tion, mul­ti­lat­er­al orga­ni­za­tions enable col­lec­tive analy­sis of the prob­lem, com­mon sets of stan­dards, and mutu­al account­abil­i­ty. The United States should con­tin­ue play­ing a lead­ing role in bod­ies such as the UN Convention Against Corruption Conference of States Parties, the OECD Working Group on Bribery, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, and the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). Through these ini­tia­tives, the United States can pur­sue pri­or­i­ties such as press­ing India, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia to crim­i­nal­ize for­eign bribery.

The United States should also con­tin­ue to invest in mul­ti­stake­hold­er plat­forms like OGP, which con­venes gov­ern­ments and civ­il soci­ety to improve trans­paren­cy and fight cor­rup­tion. OGP aligns with the Trump administration’s empha­sis on sov­er­eign­ty, as it allows mem­bers to devel­op their own tai­lored com­mit­ments, while offer­ing a plat­form to assist coun­tries that aspire to pre­vail­ing stan­dards. It is promis­ing that the U.S. gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to con­tin­ue com­ply­ing with OGP’s stan­dards, as it press­es oth­er coun­tries to do so.

The Departments of State and Treasury should also sus­tain strong appli­ca­tion of the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act’s anti­cor­rup­tion sanc­tion author­i­ties, with high-lev­el designees and region­al diver­si­ty, as reflect­ed in the first tranche of sanc­tions. These actions can cat­alyze domes­tic account­abil­i­ty. For exam­ple, mere weeks after the first U.S. des­ig­na­tion, one of the thir­teen targets—Julio Juarez—was arrest­ed by the Guatemalan gov­ern­ment for the con­duct that formed the basis of his des­ig­na­tion. The State Department should also robust­ly use its author­i­ty to pub­li­cize cor­rup­tion-relat­ed visa sanc­tions, which it did for the first time in February 2018. That pub­lic des­ig­na­tion, of for­mer Albanian pros­e­cu­tor gen­er­al Adriatik Llalla, was praised by reform­ers and prompt­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion into Llalla’s alleged cor­rup­tion. These sanc­tions tools help pro­tect U.S. mar­kets and inter­ests, mar­gin­al­ize spoil­ers, and demon­strate sol­i­dar­i­ty with cit­i­zens seek­ing reform.

10. Step Up Sectoral Mainstreaming

U.S. anti­cor­rup­tion assis­tance aver­ages $115 mil­lion annu­al­ly. Compare that with the $9.6 bil­lion in for­eign assis­tance bud­get­ed for health in fis­cal year 2017, and the mes­sage is clear: to reach scale, anti­cor­rup­tion mea­sures must break out of the Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG) silo and be inte­grat­ed across all aspects of devel­op­ment assistance.

Integration into the health sec­tor is a smart place to start, as it com­pris­es the largest share of U.S. for­eign assis­tance (aside from Peace and Security fund­ing, as dis­cussed in pro­pos­al 7). Mainstreaming cor­rup­tion con­sid­er­a­tions into health pro­gram­ming is also in line with the Trump administration’s com­mit­ment to tax-pay­er effi­cien­cy and USAID’s desire to move aid recip­i­ents toward self-reliance. Imagine the cost-sav­ings if the U.S. gov­ern­ment spent less on dis­trib­ut­ing med­i­cine to rur­al patients and more on fix­ing the logis­tics sys­tem of local health min­istries so that they could dis­burse med­i­cine on their own. Where polit­i­cal will exists, reform­ing logis­tics and pro­cure­ment prac­tices, intro­duc­ing risk-based audit­ing, and bol­ster­ing over­sight can have life-sav­ing impacts. These steps could help mit­i­gate the debil­i­tat­ing costs of weak health sys­tems, as demon­strat­ed dur­ing the Ebola cri­sis in West Africa.

It is encour­ag­ing that USAID issued its first-ever vision on health sys­tems strength­en­ing, a doc­u­ment that right­ly declares that these invest­ments are crit­i­cal to sav­ing lives, scal­ing up solu­tions, and achiev­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty. USAID’s DRG strat­e­gy and recent reports echo the need for more cross-sec­toral inte­gra­tion. In fact, USAID acknowl­edged that, by build­ing up health sys­tems, the United States can save the lives of 5.6 mil­lion chil­dren between 2016 and 2020.

But what is the path for­ward? The U.S. gov­ern­ment does not appear to have clear bench­marks for progress. A con­crete fund­ing com­mit­ment would help—such as ded­i­cat­ing 10 per­cent of over­all health spend­ing to health gov­er­nance invest­ments. Unfortunately, slow progress in this space is not a new prob­lem. USAID’s own analy­sis of anti­cor­rup­tion pro­grams admits: “Overall, anti­cor­rup­tion objec­tives were rarely includ­ed in USAID calls for pro­pos­als for sec­toral projects or, if includ­ed, they did not fil­ter down to the project com­po­nents or activ­i­ty descrip­tions, were not required for impact mea­sure­ment, and were not includ­ed in the eval­u­a­tion cri­te­ria for pro­pos­al selec­tion.” It is time to apply lessons about the pow­er of inte­grat­ing anti­cor­rup­tion mea­sures into health, secu­ri­ty, and oth­er sectors.


The ten actions above have the poten­tial to reduce the harm cor­rup­tion is caus­ing to glob­al secu­ri­ty and U.S. com­pet­i­tive­ness. Some would serve as note­wor­thy deliv­er­ables for inter­na­tion­al sum­mits with high-lev­el offi­cials, while oth­ers are ripe for savvy work­ing-lev­el bureau­crats to press for­ward grad­u­al­ly. All offer time­ly oppor­tu­ni­ties for a vari­ety of gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies, mul­ti­lat­er­al plat­forms, pri­vate sec­tor actors, and NGOs to col­lab­o­rate. These part­ner­ships will be par­tic­u­lar­ly impact­ful in places expe­ri­enc­ing a brief win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty for reform in the wake of a polit­i­cal tran­si­tion, such as Armenia, Mexico, and Zimbabwe. With quick and strate­gic action, the United States can pro­vide mean­ing­ful sup­port to coun­tries in tack­ling cor­rup­tion while also secur­ing U.S. interests.

By Abigail Bellows

Abigail Bellows recent­ly left the U.S. Department of State, where she cre­at­ed and led the anti­cor­rup­tion port­fo­lio in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Prior to that, she worked on civic account­abil­i­ty issues as a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er and consultant.

Ten Ways Washington Can Confront Global Corruption

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