International Food Assistance:

USAID Is Taking Actions to Improve Monitoring and Evaluation of Nonemergency Food Aid, but Weaknesses in Planning Could Impede Efforts

GAO-09-980: Published: Sep 28, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2009.

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In passing the Food for Peace Act in 2008, Congress authorized up to $22 million annually for fiscal years 2009 to 2012 to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of nonemergency food aid programs. Congress also required USAID to report on its oversight of these programs and the Comptroller General to review and report to Congress on USAID's report. Through analysis of agency documents; interviews with agency officials, experts, and partners; and visits to Bangladesh and Haiti, this mandated report reviews (1) USAID's plans and actions to improve its monitoring and evaluation of nonemergency food aid programs and (2) the extent to which USAID has integrated its monitoring and evaluation of nonemergency food aid with program management.

USAID's actions to improve its monitoring and evaluation of these programs could be hindered by weak planning. Monitoring is essential to ensuring that USAID's nonemergency food aid programs in developing countries are implemented as intended, and evaluation helps to assure that these programs achieve their goal of reducing global food insecurity. First, with funding from the Food for Peace Act, USAID's Office of Food for Peace (FFP) plans to increase the number of field staff responsible for the monitoring of nonemergency food aid programs, has provided funding for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, and has initiated an upgrade of its information technology system. However, FFP's plans for the information technology upgrade lack a concept of operations document, which describes system characteristics for a proposed system from a user's point of view and includes high-level descriptions of information systems, their interrelationships, and information flows. Second, with funding from other sources, USAID plans to carry out additional actions in an effort to improve its oversight of food aid, including the expansion of a computerized system for monitoring the implementation and management of nonemergency food aid programs. However, USAID has not determined a stable source of funding for these initiatives beyond the first year of operations due to legal restrictions that preclude the agency from using the newly authorized funding for grants and cooperative agreements. USAID's monitoring and evaluation of its nonemergency food aid programs are consistent to varying degrees with some of the principles established by the American Evaluation Association's Task Force on Evaluation Policy to integrate evaluation into program management. GAO found that (1) FFP's actions were generally consistent with the principles for policies and procedures and for independence. For example, FFP has issued policies and procedures for monitoring and evaluating food aid programs and generally uses external evaluators to assess its multiyear assistance programs. (2) FFP's actions were partially consistent with the principles for scope and coverage, dissemination of results, professional competence, and resources. For example, FFP relies on a range of staff to perform its monitoring and evaluation, but does not have reliable data on the numbers of field staff who have competencies in monitoring and evaluation, or their specific skills. (3) FFP's actions were not consistent with the principles for monitoring and evaluation plans. While FFP plans some of its monitoring and evaluation activities--such as final evaluations for multiyear assistance programs--it lacks an integrated plan to ensure that monitoring and evaluation results will be used to improve program management.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our report, USAID's Office of Food for Peace (FFP) agreed with our recommendation to develop a concept of operations document to help reduce the risks associated with upgrading FFP's information technology system as we recommended. Such a document should adhere to industry best practices and include key elements such as major system components, interfaces to external systems, and performance characteristics. It would also describe system characteristics for a proposed system from a user's point of view and include high-level descriptions of information systems, their interrelationships, and information flows. On or about July 15, 2011, FFP issued a concept of operations document that is consistent with industry best practices and includes the recommended key elements. Since that time, the agency has awarded contracts to develop the new information system for FFP based on this document and system development started. As such, we consider FFP's actions to be responsive to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the implementation of ongoing efforts to improve monitoring and evaluation and ensure effective program management of nonemergency food aid, the Administrator of USAID should develop a concept of operations document to help reduce the risks associated with upgrading FFP's information technology system. Such a document should adhere to industry best practices and include key elements such as major system components, interfaces to external systems, and performance characteristics. It would also describe system characteristics for a proposed system from a user's point of view and include high-level descriptions of information systems, their interrelationships, and information flows.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USAID has not developed an integrated M&E plan for its development food assistance programs. However, in response to our recommendation, USAID did take a number of actions to improve its M&E efforts including, among others, issuing standard program indicators; starting the Technical and Operational Performance Support Program in 2011; and continuing to collaborate with USAID's Bureau of Food Security and Feed the Future Initiative to align standard program indicators. Nevertheless, USAID has not demonstrated that its actions have met each of the four criteria set forth by GAO?s recommendation, which we maintain are needed for effective management of development food assistance programs.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the implementation of ongoing efforts to improve monitoring and evaluation and ensure effective program management of nonemergency food aid, the Administrator of USAID should develop an integrated monitoring and evaluation plan to ensure that the results of its oversight activities are used for effective management of nonemergency food aid programs. Such a plan should, among other things, (1) link monitoring and evaluation to key USAID and FFP goals; (2) establish a systematic process for determining appropriate budget levels and staff resources for monitoring and evaluation based on an analysis of the nature, scope, and size of the programs, and the unique conditions presented, in the recipient countries; (3) examine all available options for funding monitoring and evaluation at headquarters and in recipient countries; and (4) establish time frames for implementing and evaluating the plan.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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