Foreign Assistance:

Strategic Workforce Planning Can Help USAID Address Current and Future Challenges

GAO-03-946: Published: Aug 22, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2003.

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The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) oversees humanitarian and economic assistance--an integral part of the U.S. global security strategy--to more than 160 countries. GAO recommended in 1993 that USAID develop a comprehensive workforce plan; however, human capital management continues to be a high-risk area for the agency. GAO was asked to examine how changes in USAID's workforce over the past 10 years have affected the agency's ability to deliver foreign aid and to assess its progress in implementing a strategic workforce planning system.

USAID has evolved from an agency in which U.S. direct-hire staff directly implemented development projects to one in which U.S. direct-hire staff oversee the activities of contractors and grantees. Since 1992, the number of USAID U.S. direct-hire staff declined by 37 percent, but the number of countries with USAID programs almost doubled and, over the last 2 years, program funding increased more than 50 percent. As a result of these and other changes in its workforce and its mostly ad-hoc approach to workforce planning, USAID faces several human capital vulnerabilities. For example, attrition of experienced foreign service officers and inadequate training and mentoring have sometimes led to the deployment of staff who lack essential skills and experience. The agency also lacks a "surge capacity" to respond to evolving foreign policy priorities and emerging crises. With fewer and less experienced staff managing more programs in more countries, USAID's ability to oversee the delivery of foreign assistance is becoming increasingly difficult. USAID has taken steps toward developing a workforce planning and human capital management system that should enable the agency to meet its challenges and achieve its mission in response to the President's Management Agenda, but it needs to do more. For example, USAID has begun its workforce analysis but it has not yet conducted a comprehensive assessment of the skills and competencies of its current workforce and has not yet included its civil service and contracted employees in its workforce planning efforts. Because USAID has not adopted a strategic approach to workforce planning, it cannot ensure that it has addressed its workforce challenges appropriately and identified the right skill mix to carry out its assistance programs.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that USAID can identify its future workforce needs and pursue strategies that will help its workforce achieve the agency's goals, the USAID Administrator should develop and institutionalize a strategic workforce planning and management system that reflects current workforce planning principles. This effort should include the implementation of a reliable personnel information system, an agency-wide assessment of staff's skills and abilities, workforce strategies that address identified staffing gaps in the foreign and civil services, and a periodic evaluation of how these efforts contribute toward the achievement of the agency's program goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID initiated a comprehensive workforce analysis and planning effort to predict workload and staffing demands for the future, identify current workforce gaps, and develop necessary solutions to close those gaps. The workforce plan institutes a process that will allow the agency to project its staffing requirements and to develop targeted initiatives to meet those requirements. Plans have been made to integrate the workforce planning model and its results into other agency planning processes.

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