GAO Report Suggests that USAID Remains "More of a Contracting Agency Than an Operational Agency"
|Monday, 21 November 2011 13:33|
“But I think it's fair to say that USAID, our premier aid agency, has been decimated. You know, it has half the staff it used to have. It's turned into more of a contracting agency than an operational agency with the ability to deliver.” – Hillary Clinton, Senate Confirmation Hearing as Nominee for Secretary of State
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Beginning in the early ‘90s and continuing through the 2000s, USAID saw its reliance on contractors increase drastically. From 1990 to 2008 USAID experienced a 40 percent decline in staff, from 3500 to 2200. Over the same period, funds under their responsibility skyrocketed. The American Academy for Diplomacy noted in a 2008 report that, “[i]mplementation of programs has shifted from Agency employees to contractors and grantees and USAID lacks the technical management capacity to provide effective oversight and management.” The Academy also noted that “USAID employs only five engineers worldwide, despite a growing number of activities in that sector.” However it was not just NGOs that benefited from the increased use of contracts and grants; the for-profit development industry has gained as well. From fiscal year 1996 to fiscal year 2005, “the share of funds awarded to for-profit contractors rose from 33 percent to 58 percent.” These companies, generally based in the greater Washington, DC area, have taken a leading role in U.S. foreign aid. In a 2008 Senate hearing on USAID, Senator Patrick Leahy stated (PDF):
With the election of Barack Obama and a change in the leadership of the State Department and USAID, this situation was supposed to change. Incoming USAID director Rajiv Shah announced the USAID Forward project, which aims to “change the way the Agency does business.” Additionally, in 2008 Congress appropriated funding for the Development Leadership Initiative that aimed to double USAID’s Foreign Service workforce by 2012, overturning the previous decades of declining staff. However both the USAID Forward program and the Development Leadership Initiative have not led to drastic changes on the ground as of yet, and potential funding cuts from Congress will only exacerbate the slow pace of reform.
Staffing Problems Lead to Delays in Reconstruction Efforts in Haiti
Trenton Daniel of the Associated Press reported last Thursday on a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on USAID’s efforts in Haiti. The report analyzed USAID and State Department infrastructure projects in Haiti, finding that out of $412 million that has been allocated, just $3 million or 0.8 percent has been spent. The GAO report blamed much of the delay in spending on problems with staffing. Daniel reports:
USAID does not expect to have all of their Foreign Service officers assigned to Haiti until February 2012, over two years after the earthquake. The lack of engineers employed by USAID mentioned earlier was also a limiting factor. The GAO report notes that:
The report also placed blame on the fact that, as the AP reports, “there was only one U.S. officer in Haiti authorized to award contracts of more than $3 million.” Yet while this may have delayed infrastructure contracts, it didn’t prevent a few for-profit development firms from securing large contracts for work in Haiti.