Foreign Assistance:

U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results

GAO-03-358: Published: Mar 18, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 2003.

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Supporting democracy abroad is a major U.S. foreign policy objective. To better understand how this assistance has been implemented in Latin America, GAO was asked to review programs in six countries--Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru--that have been of particular importance to U.S. interests in Central and South America. Between fiscal years 1992 and 2002, U.S. agencies have funded more than $580 million in democracy-related programs in these countries. This report discusses the impact of and factors affecting this assistance and the overarching management issues that have affected program planning and implementation.

U.S. programs to strengthen democratic institutions in six Latin American countries have had a modest impact to date. These programs have primarily focused on promoting (1) the rule of law, (2) governance, (3) human rights, and (4) elections. U.S. assistance has helped bring about important reforms in criminal justice in five of the six countries, improved transparency and accountability of some government functions, increased attention to human rights, and supported elections that observation groups have considered free and fair. However, host governments have not always sustained these reforms by providing the needed political, financial, and human capital. For example, host countries often did not support training programs, computer systems, or equipment after U.S. funding ended. In other cases, U.S.-supported programs were limited and targeted, and countries have not adopted these programs on a national scale. Since host country resources for sustaining democracy programs are difficult to mobilize, it is crucial that the U.S. government and other donors manage available international resources as efficiently as possible for maximum impact and sustainability. Several management issues have affected democracy assistance programs. Poor coordination among the key U.S. agencies has been a long-standing management problem, and cooperation with other foreign donors has been limited. U.S. agencies' strategic plans do not outline how these agencies will overcome coordination problems and cooperate with other foreign donors on program planning and implementation to maximize scarce resources. Also, U.S. agencies have not consistently evaluated program results or shared lessons learned from completed projects, thus missing opportunities to enhance the outcomes of their programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action reported by the agency.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should establish a strategy for periodically evaluating democracy assistance projects that is consistent across agencies, countries, and types of programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our March 2003 report, "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results" (GAO-03-358), GAO recommended that State/USAID: establish a strategy for periodically evaluating democracy assistance projects that is consistent across agencies, countries, and types of programs. In its agency comments on the GAO report, State/USAID agreed that evaluations are important and that there is room for improvement. In response, in October 2005, a State/USAID official said that the agency's Latin America and Caribbean Bureau has established a new strategic framework that identifies strategic program priorities and operational goals for the region, acts as a road map to guide State/USAID actions, and informs State/USAID decisions on the allocation of financial and human resources. In addition State/USAID's Democracy and Governance office conducted a comprehensive study of the overall impact and effectiveness of State/USAID democracy assistance programs. The study's goal is to determine the impact of State/USAID democracy/governance programming to ascertain what works and what doesn't work under what conditions. A report on the study was issued in January 2006.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should establish a strategy for periodically evaluating democracy assistance projects that is consistent across agencies, countries, and types of programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our March 2003 report, "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results" (GAO-03-358), GAO recommended that State/USAID establish a strategy for periodically evaluating democracy assistance projects that is consistent across agencies, countries, and types of programs. In its agency comments on the GAO report, State/USAID agreed that evaluations are important and that there is room for improvement. In response, in October 2005, a State/USAID official said that the agency's Latin America and Caribbean Bureau has established a new strategic framework that identifies strategic program priorities and operational goals for the region, acts as a road map to guide State/USAID actions, and informs State/USAID decisions on the allocation of financial and human resources. In addition State/USAID's Democracy and Governance office conducted a comprehensive study of the overall impact and effectiveness of State/USAID democracy assistance programs. The study's goal is to determine the impact of State/USAID democracy/governance programming to ascertain what works and what doesn't work under what conditions. A report on the study was issued in January 2006.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should establish a strategy for periodically evaluating democracy assistance projects that is consistent across agencies, countries, and types of programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action reported by the agency.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should develop more comprehensive interagency strategic plans at the regional and country level for democracy assistance addressing how U.S. agencies will cooperate with each other and other major donors to achieve greater impact and sustainability in democracy programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its March 2003 report "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results" (GAO-03-358), GAO recommended that USAID "develop more comprehensive interagency strategic plans at the regional and country level for democracy assistance addressing how U.S. agencies will cooperate with each other and other major donors to achieve greater impact and sustainability in democracy programs." In its agency comments on the GAO report, USAID agreed that it could upgrade its strategic planning systems. In August 2003, USAID and the Department of State issued their first jointly prepared strategic plan, covering the years 2004 to 2009. This plan includes a strategic goal of advancing the growth of democracy and good governance. The narrative associated with this goal includes reference to working with key partners and cross-cutting programs and highlights key areas of focus, including promoting the rule of law and developing governance and human rights infrastructures. As a part of this new joint strategic planning framework, State and USAID have established a joint Policy Council to ensure that inter-agency coordination is implemented at the working level. The Policy Council is a coordination mechanism that includes working groups that meet on a monthly basis that includes representatives from State, Justice, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Inter-American Foundation. For the Latin America region, coordination meetings cover the subject areas of law enforcement, anti-corruption, political parties, narcotics, and fragile states. Also as a part of the joint strategic planning framework, USAID and State are developing a common tool at the country level to capture both Embassy and Mission strategic planning.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should develop more comprehensive interagency strategic plans at the regional and country level for democracy assistance addressing how U.S. agencies will cooperate with each other and other major donors to achieve greater impact and sustainability in democracy programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its March 2003 report "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results" (GAO-03-358), GAO recommended that the Department of State "develop more comprehensive interagency strategic plans at the regional and country level for democracy assistance addressing how U.S. agencies will cooperate with each other and other major donors to achieve greater impact and sustainability in democracy programs." In its agency comments on the GAO report, State agreed that a more strategic approach is needed with USAID in the governance and human rights areas. The Department also acknowledged the need for greater coordination of democracy programs among different funding sources within State and USAID. In August 2003, State and USAID issued their first jointly prepared strategic plan, covering the years 2004 to 2009. This plan includes the strategic goal of advancing the growth of democracy and good governance. The narrative associated with this goal includes reference to working with key partners and cross-cutting programs and highlights key areas of focus, including promoting the rule of law and developing governance and human rights infrastructures. As a result of this new joint strategic planning framework, State and USAID have established a joint Policy Council to ensure that inter-agency coordination is implemented at the working level. The Policy Council is a coordination mechanism that includes working groups that meet on a monthly basis that includes representatives from State, Justice, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Inter-American Foundation. For the Latin America region, coordination meetings cover the subject areas of law enforcement, anti-corruption, political parties, narcotics, and fragile states. Also as a part of the joint strategic planning framework, State and USAID are developing a common tool at the country level to capture both Embassy and Mission strategic planning.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should develop more comprehensive interagency strategic plans at the regional and country level for democracy assistance addressing how U.S. agencies will cooperate with each other and other major donors to achieve greater impact and sustainability in democracy programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its March 2003 report "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Programs in Six Latin American Countries Have Yielded Modest Results" (GAO-03-358), GAO recommended that USAID "establish a systematic mechanism to share information on development approaches, methods, materials, and results from all democracy assistance projects among U.S. agencies and implementers." In its agency comments on the GAO report, USAID agreed that there was room for improvement in the areas of communication, coordination, and information sharing. In response, USAID has held training sessions for democracy officers in April 2004 and January 2005. These coordination and training meetings focused on anti-corruption and democratic local governance activities with the intent of enhancing the quality of democracy programs by providing exposure to the latest academic thinking, programming from other regions, and comparison among similar approaches now being undertaken in the Latin America region.

    Recommendation: To ensure that U.S. assistance activities designed to support and strengthen democracies in Latin America have the maximum impact and sustainability, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of USAID should establish a systematic mechanism to share information on development approaches, methods, materials, and results from democracy assistance projects among U.S. agencies and implementers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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