Afghanistan Development:

Enhancements to Performance Management and Evaluation Efforts Could Improve USAID's Agricultural Programs

GAO-10-368: Published: Jul 14, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2010.

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Eighty percent of Afghans are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agricultural assistance is a key U.S. contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts. Since 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded about $1.4 billion for agricultural programs to increase agricultural productivity, accelerate economic growth, and eliminate illicit drug cultivation. This report (1) describes the change in U.S. focus on agricultural assistance since 2002, (2) assesses USAID's performance management and evaluation of its agricultural programs, (3) analyzes the extent to which certain programs met targets, and (4) addresses efforts to mitigate implementation challenges. GAO reviewed USAID documents; analyzed program data; and interviewed program implementers and USAID officials in Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan. GAO has prepared this report as part of its ongoing efforts to monitor key aspects of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

The United States' focus in providing agricultural assistance to Afghanistan shifted from food security programs in 2002 to counternarcotics-related alternative-development programs in 2005. This focus on providing farmers with alternatives to growing opium poppy lasted through 2008. In 2009, the Administration shifted the focus of its agricultural strategy in Afghanistan from counternarcotics to counterinsurgency, noting that economic growth and new job creation were critical to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan because they provide alternatives to narcotics- and insurgent-related activities. USAID's Automated Directives System established planning, monitoring, and evaluation procedures that USAID was expected to follow in Afghanistan. USAID planning efforts prior to 2009 largely follow these procedures. However, since the end of 2008, USAID has operated without a required Mission performance management plan for Afghanistan. In addition, USAID did not approve all implementing partner monitoring plans for the eight USAID agricultural programs, which represented about 75 percent of all USAID agricultural awards since 2002. USAID also did not assure all indicators had targets. USAID undertook efforts to monitor agricultural programs, but due to security concerns could not consistently verify reported data. USAID did not consistently analyze and interpret or document program performance for these eight programs, active between 2007 and 2009, on which our review focused. In the absence of this analysis, USAID did not document decisions linking program performance to changes made to the duration or funding of programs. USAID conducted one evaluation covering three of the eight programs, but the extent to which or whether USAID used the evaluation to enhance current or future programs is unclear. We found that the eight agricultural programs we reviewed did not always establish or achieve their targets for each performance indicator. USAID requires implementing partners to submit information on indicators, targets, and results. We measured performance for the eight programs by comparing annual results against annual targets and determining the extent to which targets were met. Six of the eight programs did not meet their performance targets in the most recent year for which targets were reported. For the two programs that met all their targets, we found they failed to establish targets for several indicators and, thus, we could not fully assess performance for those indicators. We also found that the three longest-running programs in our review showed declines in performance from fiscal years 2006 to 2008. USAID faces several challenges to implementing its agricultural programs in Afghanistan, such as the security environment, and has taken steps to mitigate other challenges, such as working to improve Afghan government capacity. However, while USAID's lack of documentation and high staff turnover have hampered USAID's ability to maintain institutional knowledge, the agency has not taken steps to address this challenge. GAO recommends that the USAID Administrator take a number of steps to enhance performance planning, monitoring and evaluation, and knowledge transfer procedures. USAID agreed with our recommendations, highlighted ongoing efforts to improve in these areas, and noted the high-threat environment in which they are operating.

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 enhance the performance management of USAID's agricultural programs in Afghanistan, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to make use of results from evaluations of its agricultural programs.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, USAID concurred with our recommendation. USAID noted that it uses any and all assessments and evaluations in the design process for its programs. As an example, USAID noted that it had completed the final evaluation of its three completed Alternative Development Programs, and that these reports were used as part of the review of proposals for new regional agricultural development programs.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance management of USAID's agricultural programs in Afghanistan, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to consistently analyze and interpret program data, such as determining the extent to which annual targets are met.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, USAID concurred with our recommendation and pointed to a number of steps it is taking to increase its analysis and interpretation of program data. USAID noted that the Office of Agriculture's Contracting and Agreement Officer's Technical Representatives continuously review data on program progress and monitor program performance and that USAID staff review performance data during the preparation of the annual Performance Plan and Report, as well as during portfolio reviews presented to USAID and/or Embassy leadership. USAID further noted that with the new roll-out of the delegation of authority to field program officers to serve as activity managers of Office of agriculture programs, field program officers will now be responsible for conducting regular project monitoring and reporting on program performance, verify data reported by implementing partners and assure quality of data being reported through regular site visits. USAID/Afghanistan has taken steps to increase the use of third party monitoring to ensure data integrity and quality. Finally, USAID/Afghanistan noted that it has rolled out the Afghan Info electronic data base to track program performance, implementation pace, and financial disbursement rates. USAID/Afghanistan can now monitor data through the data base by means of the routine uploading of results.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance management of USAID's agricultural programs in Afghanistan, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to ensure that implementing partners establish targets for all performance indicators.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, USAID concurred with our recommendation. In December 2010, USAID's Afghanistan Office of Agriculture received approval for its new Performance Monitoring Plan and began working with its implementing partners to align their existing indicators with those in the new Performance Monitoring Plan. USAID subsequently completed approval of all implementing partner Performance Monitoring Plans, which include the implementing partners' performance indicator targets, in April 2011.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance management of USAID's agricultural programs in Afghanistan, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to ensure the approval of implementing partner performance indicators.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, USAID concurred with our recommendation. In December 2010, USAID's Afghanistan Office of Agriculture received approval for its new Performance Monitoring Plan and began working with its implementing partners to align their existing indicators with those in the new Performance Monitoring Plan. All of USAID's implementing partners in Afghanistan are now reporting on a shared set of indicators through the Mission-wide Afghan Info reporting system.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance management of USAID's agricultural programs in Afghanistan, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to address preservation of institutional knowledge.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID concurred with our recommendation. USAID noted that program monitoring officials in Afghanistan were maintaining program documentation in electronic files on a shared drive for use by current and incoming staff. USAID said it took additional steps to further ensure that institutional knowledge is not lost during turnovers. First, the agreement that program monitoring officials agree to when first taking their positions includes responsibility for maintaining adequate files. Also, in December 2011, USAID established mandatory technical guidance for program monitoring officials on how to establish and where to maintain files, in addition to key responsibilities of the office director to ensure that files are maintained as required before officials leave their positions. In January 2012, program monitoring officials were formally reminded of their responsibilities regarding file maintenance. In February 2012, USAID also launched a new Internet site called AllNet Portal (portal.usaidallnet.gov) to allow USAID officials to collaborate with its partners. According to USAID, this site helps USAID consolidate information and allows outside partners to make meaningful contributions to agency activities. Finally, according to USAID, it is expanding its Foreign Service National staff, which is the traditional method of ensuring continuity and working to increase the overlap between transitioning staff.

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