Foreign Assistance:

USAID Completed Many Caribbean Disaster Recovery Activities, but Several Challenges Hampered Efforts

GAO-06-645: Published: May 26, 2006. Publicly Released: May 26, 2006.

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In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan and Tropical Storm Jeanne passed through the Caribbean, taking lives and causing widespread damage in several countries. After initial U.S. emergency relief, in October 2004 Congress appropriated $100 million in supplemental funding, primarily for Grenada, Jamaica, and Haiti, which were significantly affected. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), leader of the U.S. recovery programs, agreed, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, to complete the programs by December 31, 2005, giving the agency a 1-year time frame. GAO was asked to (1) review the nature and status of the programs in Grenada, Jamaica, and Haiti as of December 31, 2005; (2) identify factors that affected the programs' progress; and (3) assess USAID's use of guidance and lessons learned from previous similar programs and efforts to draw lessons from the current programs.

As of December 31, 2005, USAID had spent about 77 percent of funds allocated for assistance in Grenada, Jamaica, and Haiti and completed many disaster recovery activities, such as providing business and agriculture grants. However, the agency significantly reduced its targets for building and repairing houses, in part because of cost increases, and granted contractors extensions to complete some of these projects. Severe weather delayed the progress of recovery activities in Jamaica and Haiti--for example, two hurricanes in the summer of 2005 disrupted Jamaican housing repairs. In addition, difficulty coordinating activities with the Grenadian and Jamaican governments hampered housing construction. Further, other construction-related challenges--for example, shortages of cement--delayed projects in Grenada and Jamaica. Finally, frequent security problems in Haiti hindered contractors' progress. USAID has not issued guidance that incorporates lessons learned from previous recovery and reconstruction programs, such as ways to mitigate challenges commonly faced in rebuilding after disasters. USAID staff inexperienced with disaster recovery efforts said that this made it difficult to design and implement the programs. Further, in agreeing to complete the programs within 1 year, USAID faced challenges in designing a broad spectrum of activities that would help rebuild residents' lives and that could be sustained after the programs ended. In addition, the agency did not adopt recommendations from GAO and USAID reviews of past recovery programs that could have helped it more rapidly hire and transfer staff for the Caribbean programs. Although the agency contracted with a management firm to quickly staff its program in Grenada and Jamaica, this led to additional challenges, such as confusion about the management firm's roles and responsibilities in relation to USAID staff and other contractors. USAID staff and contractors are recording lessons learned from the programs in each country.

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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better facilitate USAID's ability to design and implement future disaster recovery programs and address its previously documented recurring staffing challenges, the USAID Administrator should develop disaster recovery and reconstruction program guidance that incorporates lessons learned from the Hurricane Ivan Recovery and Reconstruction Program and Tropical Storm Jeanne Recovery Program as well as previous disaster recovery programs.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2004 the U.S. Congress passed a supplemental appropriation allocating $100 million hurricane disaster recovery and reconstruction assistance for Grenada, Jamaica, and Haiti following damage caused by Hurricane Ivan and tropical Storm Jeanne that year. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was responsible for implementing the program, which included infrastructure and housing repairs and business rehabilitation programs. GAO conducted an audit of program activities and issued a report in May 2006 entitled "Foreign Assistance: USAID Completed Many Caribbean Disaster Recovery Activities, but Several Challenges Hampered Efforts". USAID has recently posted lessons learned from previous disasters on its intranet as a partial response to a GAO recommendation in the Caribbean report. While reviewing USAID's Caribbean program activities, GAO found that although USAID has managed several recovery and reconstruction programs since 1999, it has not issued guidance that incorporates lessons learned from designing and implementing such programs. As a result, GAO recommended that USAID develop disaster recovery and reconstruction program guidance that incorporates lessons learned form the Hurricane Ivan and Reconstruction Program and Tropical Storm Jeanne Recovery Program, as well as previous disaster recovery programs. USAID's recent posting of lessons learned provides more direct access for staff responsible for managing disasters to learn from previous programs and implement recovery and reconstruction activities more effectively.

    Recommendation: To better facilitate USAID's ability to design and implement future disaster recovery programs and address its previously documented recurring staffing challenges, the USAID Administrator should revise staffing procedures to allow the agency to more quickly reassign or hire key personnel, either to augment staff responsible for disaster recovery efforts in countries with a USAID mission or to manage efforts in countries where USAID does not maintain a permanent presence.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed a supplemental appropriation allocating $100 million to hurricane disaster recovery and reconstruction assistance for Grenada, Jamaica, and Haiti following damage caused by Hurricane Ivan and tropical storm Jeanne that year. USAID was responsible for implementing the program, which included infrastructure and housing repairs and business rehabilitation programs. GAO conducted a review of program activities and issued a report in May 2006 entitled, "Foreign Assistance: USAID Completed Many Caribbean Disaster Recovery Activities, but Several Challenges Hampered Efforts." GAO found that, although USAID has managed several recovery and reconstruction programs since 1999, it had not adopted recommendations from previous GAO and USAID reviews of past recovery program that could have helped it more rapidly hire and transfer staff for the Caribbean disaster programs. GAO recommended that the USAID Administrator should revise staffing procedures to allow the agency to more quickly reassign or hire key personnel. USAID has taken several steps to improve staffing of disaster recovery programs. First, USAID developed a Surge Roster which includes over 200 former USAID employees who have expressed an interest in working for USAID both in Washington and overseas. The roster is broken down by occupational clusters, and has been used with great success to rapidly staff a wide variety of assignments, including recent disaster recovery efforts. Also, based on lessons learned on staffing in Iraq and Afghanistan, USAID devised a system to ensure that families, who are not permitted to accompany the USAID employee to disaster areas, are able to remain at the employee's post of assignment while the employee is deployed to an area for disaster recovery activities. This system eases the burden of family separation and expedites staffing of disaster reconstruction programs. Finally, USAID launched a Learning Management System (LMS) which plans and tracks USAID employee skills and competency development. The LMS will enhance USAID's response to disaster recovery operations by enabling USAID managers to quickly identify employees with the necessary skill sets.

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