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Diplomacy in Action

Standardized Program Structure and Definitions


U.S. foreign assistance is categorized using a specific system known as the Standardized Program Structure and Definitions (SPSD). This is important for many reasons. First, the SPSD is comprised of broadly agreed-upon definitions for foreign assistance programs, providing a common language to describe programs. Second, by utilizing a common language, information for various types of programs can be aggregated within a country, regionally or globally allowing for the comparison and analysis of budget and performance data.

Recently, the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources (F), in concert with stakeholders from State and USAID, conducted the first major update to the SPSD since its inception in 2006. The Updated SPSD now contains seven foreign assistance categories:

• The Peace and Security (PS) Category includes foreign assistance that helps countries effectively establish the conditions and capacity for achieving peace, security, and stability; and for responding effectively against arising threats to national or international security and stability.

• The Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DR) Category reflects foreign assistance that supports countries advance freedom and dignity by establishing, consolidating and protecting democratic institutions, processes and values. Key components embrace participatory and accountable governance, rule of law, authentic political competition, civil society, human rights, and the free flow of information.

• The Health (HL) Category comprises foreign assistance that supports countries as they improve the health of their populace -- especially women, children, and other vulnerable populations. Key components promote the expansion of basic health services, including family planning; strengthening national health systems, and addressing global issues and special concerns such as HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

• The Education and Social Services (ES) Category includes foreign assistance that aids nations as they establish sustainable improvements in the well-being and productivity of their populations through effective and accountable investments in education and other social services. Chief tenants of assistance promote equitable, effective, accountable, and sustainable formal and non-formal education systems.

• The Economic Growth (EG) Category went from eight Areas to 13. The majority of the changes involve how to handle climate change, infrastructure, and environment programming. Stakeholders agreed to elevate climate change the three “pillars” to three distinct Areas with new Elements under each. The Infrastructure Program Area split into three new Categories to better record activities in energy, and information and communications technology. Environment and Climate Change are now completely separate. Multiple definitions were edited to better distinguish between and cross-reference with DR efforts.

• The Humanitarian Assistance (HA) Category maintained the four current Areas and eliminated all Sub-Elements. Stakeholders revised multiple definitions to better record U.S. Government activities and to incorporate activities formerly recorded under Sub-Elements. Since stakeholders often struggled to understand how to differentiate programs under the Disaster Readiness Area, the update combined the two current Disaster Readiness Elements and added a new Element to cover all Disaster Readiness activities. This will eliminate the issue of stakeholders arbitrarily recording programs in falsely distinct Elements.

• The Program Development and Oversight (PO) Category went from two areas to three with the addition of the Evaluation Area as P.O.3. The definition of PO.1 was revised to remove references to evaluation. Sub-Elements were eliminated, and, in response to questions from Missions and Posts, the Category definition was revised slightly to reference assessing the potential positive impact of information and communications technologies on performance.


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