Leveling Up on Anti-Corruption: USAID’s New Anti-Corruption Policy

By Verónica Garza

December 7, 2022   |   0 comments

Corruption is estimated to sap some $3.6 trillion a year – which is a few billion dollars shy of the combined economies of Canada and Australia – out of the pockets of people, businesses and governments around the world. As we recognize International Anti-Corruption Day on Dec. 9, attention is focused on new efforts to combat corruption across sectors and borders.  

USAID’s new anti-corruption resources – Dekleptification Guide, Guide to Countering Corruption Across Sectors – as well as the upcoming International Anti-Corruption Conference, point not only to increased global attention to anti-corruption, but to efforts to refine the understanding of corruption and how we fight it in its current transnational context.  

USAID’s new resources are part of what is encapsulated in its newly released Anti-Corruption Policy. The policy lays out an ambitious plan to elevate and reorient the agency’s anti-corruption work, including a new definition of corruption, re-focusing efforts on transnational corruption, grand corruption and kleptocracy, as well as enhancing the approaches used to address corruption both within a country and across borders.  

Below are 4 key implications of the policy: 


Realigning efforts to address contemporary corruption  

Corruption has morphed in both scale and scope, requiring us to evolve the methods and approaches to combat it. Kleptocratic regimes and organized criminal networks have been fueled by inaction and poor governance, allowing them to strengthen their hold on power and the global economy.  

 To adapt to the changed corruption landscape, the policy shifts USAID’s focus away from administrative corruption at the country-level and redirects it towards transnational and strategic corruption and kleptocracy. To do this, USAID will seek out opportunities to augment and adapt existing approaches at the country-level that also target transnational corruption. For example, current approaches dedicated to empowering change agents in civil society and the media to expose corruption should be augmented to catalyze global, regional and trans-local coalitions of journalists and activists to uncover complex cross-border corruption schemes. The emphasis on the most malign forms of corruption, such as grand corruption and electoral corruption, speaks to the crucial link with global development and democratic outcomes.  

Enabling evidence-based programming 

USAID plans to improve access to and operationalize cutting-edge research, evidence and data on corruption. The forthcoming USAID State of Innovation Analysis on Countering Transnational Corruption report will provide an overview of the current landscape for innovative tools, technologies, and approaches to counter transnational corruption.  

Moreover, the policy is expected to expand research on priority topics, such as applying social norms and behavioral change insights to anti-corruption, corruption in the COVID 19 response and opportunities for impact in low political will environments. The expansion of research into emerging approaches, such as how social norms are important drivers of corrupt patterns, represents an important push to continue identifying, building, and expanding on anti-corruption efforts that work.  

Integrating anti-corruption considerations across sectors 

Corruption hinders growth across all sectors and diverts resources from investments that could fuel locally led development.  

The increasing pervasiveness of corruption makes it crucial to attack it from multiple angles. USAID plans to further integrate anti-corruption across its assistance portfolio to improve sectoral outcomes and maximize impact. This includes introducing a new Guide to Countering Corruption Across Sectors, as well as sector-specific Anti-Corruption Integration Handbooks to identify and act on integration opportunities. Advancing cross-sectoral anti-corruption action in key areas such as climate and energy, humanitarian assistance and food security will enable the safeguarding of development outcomes and support the transformation of essential country systems. 

To address teacher absenteeism and reduce opportunities to corruption in the education sector, Creative supports a holistic approach to improving teacher motivation through responsive in-service training and coaching, coupled with strengthened school management capacity for improved monitoring and learning. Creative has successfully addressed teacher HR policy reform and used innovations in mobile money to further transparency and ensure teachers and learning facilitators are incentivized to stay in classrooms.  

Expanding partnerships and coalitions 

Evidence continues to point towards local actors as being the most effective in combatting corruption. Key lessons from USAID’s first Anti-Corruption Evidence and Learning week highlighted informal movements and coalitions, especially with local actors in the lead, as often being the most effective change agents. Recent research also emphasizes the role broad societal coalitions and multistakeholder partnerships could play in enhancing integrity and reducing corruption. Moreover, a sector-focused approach which equips local actors to formulate reform strategies could enable a more effective way of curbing corruption.  

These approaches and lessons highlight the need for USAID to build on their commitment to advance localization and expand engagement with and support to local actors at the community-level. The policy emphasizes shifting power to local actors and creating space for them to influence and exercise leadership over where, how, and why they collaborate to advance anti-corruption outcomes. Aligned with its Local Capacity Strengthening Policy, USAID plans to explore creative grantmaking approaches to extend support to non-traditional partners while supporting them to develop internal systems and capacity to manage USG fund effectively.  

Corruption remains a major challenge to equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development. As such, the policy reflects the urgent steps needed to update the understanding of corruption and shift the conception from a country-level matter to one heightened by transnational dynamics. With the potential for new priorities or initiatives rising to the forefront, the policy represents a noteworthy effort to establish anti-corruption as an enduring commitment throughout USAID’s work. 


Verónica Garza is a Senior Program Specialist in Creative Associates International’s Communities in Transition Division. 


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