Humanitarian and Development Assistance:

Project Evaluations and Better Information Sharing Needed to Manage the Military's Efforts

GAO-12-359: Published: Feb 8, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of its key humanitarian assistance programs reflects both positive practices and weaknesses:

  • Alignment with strategic goals. DOD aligns its humanitarian assistance project planning with the goals outlined in U.S. and departmental strategies, and has clearly established processes for implementing its projects.

  • Interagency project coordination. DOD has taken steps to coordinate with the Department of State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on projects, such as seeking concurrence on project proposals and embedding representatives from their agencies at its combatant commands, but coordination challenges remain.

  • Poor data management. DOD does not have complete information on the status or actual costs of the full range of its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) projects. In addition, Humanitarian and Civic Assistance project data in DOD’s database differ from what DOD reports to Congress.

  • Limited program evaluations. From fiscal years 2005 through 2009, DOD had not completed 90 percent of the required 1-year post-project evaluations for its OHDACA projects, and about half of the required 30-day evaluations for those projects, and thus lacks information to determine projects’ effects.

  • Limited program guidance. DOD’s primary guidance for the OHDACA humanitarian assistance program is limited, is not readily accessible to all DOD personnel, and has not been updated for several years.

Furthermore, DOD, State, and USAID do not have full visibility over each others’ assistance efforts, which could result in a fragmented approach to U.S. assistance. There are several initiatives under way to improve information sharing, including one directed by the National Security Council. However, no framework, such as a common database, currently exists for the agencies to readily access information on each others’ efforts. Moreover, the potential for overlap exists among agencies’ efforts in four areas: (1) health, (2) education, (3) infrastructure, and (4) disaster preparation. For example, both USAID and DOD are conducting health care projects in Yemen and building schools in Azerbaijan. Overlap may be appropriate in some instances, especially if agencies can leverage each others’ efforts. However, given the agencies’ information-sharing challenges, there are questions as to whether DOD’s efforts are an efficient use of resources since USAID serves as the lead U.S. development agency. State and USAID officials said that DOD’s humanitarian assistance efforts can be beneficial, especially when responding to disasters or supporting foreign militaries. However, officials said DOD’s efforts can have negative political effects, particularly in fragile communities where even small gestures, such as distributing soccer balls to a particular population, can be interpreted as exhibiting favoritism. While DOD’s funding for humanitarian assistance is small relative to the billions spent by State and USAID, its programs are expanding. Given interagency information challenges, the fiscally-constrained environment, and the similarity of agencies’ assistance efforts, DOD and the other agencies involved in foreign assistance could benefit from additional direction from Congress on DOD’s role in performing humanitarian assistance in peacetime environments.

Why GAO Did This Study

In recent years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has increased its emphasis and spending on humanitarian assistance efforts outside of war and disaster environments. From fiscal years 2005 through 2010, DOD obligated about $383 million on its key humanitarian assistance programs. Because civilian agencies, such as the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also carry out many assistance efforts, DOD’s efforts require close collaboration with these agencies. This report was conducted as part of GAO’s response to a statutory mandate and reviewed (1) DOD’s management of two key humanitarian assistance programs—the humanitarian assistance program funded through its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriation and its Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program—and (2) the extent to which DOD, State, and USAID have visibility over each others’ efforts. To conduct this review, GAO analyzed funding and program information, and interviewed officials at DOD, State, USAID, nongovernment organizations, and 12 U.S. embassies.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD update its humanitarian assistance program guidance, improve data management, and conduct project evaluations, and that DOD, State, and USAID improve information sharing. GAO also suggests that Congress consider clarifying DOD’s role in humanitarian assistance efforts. DOD partially agreed with the recommendations, and State and USAID agreed with the recommendations addressed to them.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov..

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No legislative action has been taken as of August 2016.

    Matter: As part of an examination of multiple programs and government functions at a time of fiscal constraint, and to help reduce the potential for overlap among agencies' efforts, Congress may wish to consider the role of DOD in conducting humanitarian assistance efforts and consider amending the legislation that supports the OHDACA program to more specifically define DOD's role in humanitarian assistance, taking into account the roles and similar types of efforts performed by the civilian agencies. If Congress chooses to modify the legislation, Congress may wish to consider clarifying the different terminology used by DOD, other federal agencies, and the international community regarding such efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In May 2012 DOD updated its guidance for the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) humanitarian assistance program and disseminated this guidance to the combatant commanders and to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. As recommended, the policy guidance clarifies that OHDACA funds can be used to perform project evaluations for OHDACA humanitarian assistance projects. DOD officials indicated they will use the updated guidance to develop a departmental instruction for DOD's OHDACA program. As of August 2016, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs stated that they are still in the process of drafting the instruction and are also revalidating the 2012 policy guidance on OHDACA. The office stated they anticipate formally coordinating a draft of the DOD Instruction by the end of calendar year 2016.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to help improve consistency in program implementation by issuing a departmental instruction and updating accompanying guidance on DOD's OHDACA humanitarian assistance program. In issuing the updated guidance, the department may wish to consider further clarifying the use of OHDACA funds for specific project evaluation purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with our recommendation and has taken several actions to improve the completeness and timeliness of data entered into the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System (OHASIS). For example, Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) officials stated that they have updated the OHASIS home page so that users can see when projects were last updated and the number of after action reports that need to be completed, and have developed project dashboards to display where humanitarian assistance projects are in their life cycle. Further, as part of the fiscal year 2015 budget, DSCA implemented a Budget Allocation Process intended to link combatant command's humanitarian assistance funding levels to the completion of accurate and timely project information updates in OHASIS. The new Budget Allocation Process requirements are reflected in the Security Assistance Management Manual, and emphasize the importance of having updated and complete project information in OHASIS from the combatant commands throughout the life cycle of a project. According to officials these steps have improved the completeness of data on OHASIS. These steps meet the intent of our recommendation to ensure that users provide complete and timely updates to OHDACA project information.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Defense Security Cooperation Agency to require that the combatant commands and other DOD users of the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System database provide complete and timely updates to OHDACA humanitarian assistance project information within the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD has taken steps to develop appropriate measures of performance to evaluate its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) humanitarian assistance programs, and has a plan in place to develop a risk-based approach to review and modify project evaluation requirements. In August 2012, DOD implemented new 30-day project evaluations focused on host nation and U.S. government performance, and whether a project has achieved its intended objectives. According to DOD officials, within the new 30-day evaluation structure, projects are flagged if evaluations are overdue and the completion rate for 30-day evaluations is now used when determining the combatant command's OHDACA budget allocations. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA)has also formalized its Budget Allocation Process, intended to link project funding to the completion of timely data and evaluations, in the Security Assistance Management Manual, and implemented the Budget Allocation Process as part of their fiscal year 2015 budget. In August 2013 the department began accumulating and analyzing data on 30-day evaluations to determine how to appropriately employ a risk-based approach to project evaluation requirements. In addition to data collected from 30-day project evaluations, DSCA implemented a template for one year project evaluations in November 2014, and officials said they intend to analyze data from the one year template as part of their analysis of data from 30-day evaluations. As of August 2016, DSCA is finalizing its analysis of 30-day and one year evaluations to inform the development of a risk-based approach for performing project evaluations, and anticipates finalizing this approach in spring of 2017.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Defense Security Cooperation Agency to employ a risk-based approach to review and modify project evaluation requirements for the OHDACA humanitarian assistance program to measure the long-term effects of humanitarian assistance projects, and take steps to ensure compliance with the requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In July 2013 DOD officials stated that as part of their initial efforts to improve the combatant command's use of the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System (OHASIS), they withheld staffing of humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) project submissions until the combatant commands corrected data errors and completed necessary actions to ensure information in the database was accurate. While DOD is no longer withholding staffing of project submissions on this basis, their oversight and emphasis on the importance of accurate data has resulted in 100 percent compliance in correcting data errors and deficiencies for HCA projects in the database. DOD officials also noted that they are in the process of revising the DOD instruction on HCA activities to require that all HCA projects be submitted through OHASIS with detailed guidance on the project submission process, which DOD believes will provide the necessary direction to further ensure compliance. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation to require complete and timely updates of HCA project data.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to require that the combatant commands and other DOD users of the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System database provide complete and timely updates to Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) project information within the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed with our recommendation and noted that they would begin developing additional guidance for assessing HCA projects. In response to our recommendation follow-up, the department stated that in June 2014 they updated DOD Instruction 2205.02, Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Activities, to include a new section on project assessments. The updated instruction includes specific guidance for HCA project assessments, such as requiring that assessments be entered into the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System, requiring the completion of 30 day after action reviews, and clarifying that HCA project funds can be used by the combatant commands to perform project assessments. The instruction also provides guidance and criteria for the combatant commands on the completion of one-year assessments, noting that the commands should consider things like project costs or what percentage of completed projects should be assessed when determining whether they should perform one-year assessments. In response to our recommendation follow-up, DOD officials noted that they considered our report findings on the lack of completed HCA project assessments when updating the DOD instruction, and acknowledged that long-term assessments were needed in order to validate the effectiveness of HCA projects. Identifying specific project assessment requirements and criteria for the performance of one-year project assessments will help the department to be better informed of the long-term effects of HCA projects, as well as provide the Joint Staff and Congress with the necessary oversight to determine whether projects are meeting their intended goals and are an effective use of resources.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to employ a risk-based approach to review and modify project evaluation requirements for the HCA program to measure the long-term effects of projects and take steps to ensure compliance with the requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation. In September 2012 DOD submitted data on their peacetime humanitarian assistance programs and 12 other security assistance programs to the Department of State for inclusion in the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. As of May 2013, data on DOD's security sector assistance programs, which includes humanitarian assistance efforts, is available on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard along with foreign assistance data from the Department of State and USAID. The inclusion of all three agencies' data on one database meets the intent of our recommendation by providing a standardized approach for information sharing across all three agencies and promoting full visibility over each other's humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should develop a framework to formalize interagency information sharing on humanitarian/development assistance efforts, such as a common database. Such a framework could involve selecting an existing initiative, such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, to be used by all agencies for their assistance efforts or taking steps to facilitate interoperability among the agencies' existing independent mechanisms.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State concurred with our recommendation. As of May 2013 data on DOD's security sector assistance programs, which includes humanitarian assistance efforts, is available on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard along with foreign assistance data from the Department of State and USAID. The inclusion of all three agencies' data on one database meets the intent of our recommendation by providing a standardized approach for information sharing across all three agencies and promoting full visibility over each other's humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should develop a framework to formalize interagency information sharing on humanitarian/development assistance efforts, such as a common database. Such a framework could involve selecting an existing initiative, such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, to be used by all agencies for their assistance efforts or taking steps to facilitate interoperability among the agencies' existing independent mechanisms.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID concurred with our recommendation. As of May 2013 data on DOD's security sector assistance programs, which includes humanitarian assistance efforts, is available on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard along with foreign assistance data from the Department of State and USAID. The inclusion of all three agencies' data on one database meets the intent of our recommendation by providing a standardized approach for information sharing across all three agencies and promoting full visibility over each other's humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should develop a framework to formalize interagency information sharing on humanitarian/development assistance efforts, such as a common database. Such a framework could involve selecting an existing initiative, such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, to be used by all agencies for their assistance efforts or taking steps to facilitate interoperability among the agencies' existing independent mechanisms.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation. In July 2012 the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State, and USAID developed the 3D Planning Guide to serve as a reference tool to help planners within the three agencies better understand each other's plans and processes. As part of the 3D Planning Guide, the agencies included a glossary of key terms, noting which agencies use key terms, and variances across the agencies in how terminology is used to assist planners in understanding and using different terms as they collaborate with each other on humanitarian and development assistance efforts. The issuance of the guide meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should collaborate to develop guidance that provides a common understanding of the terminology used by DOD, State, and USAID related to their humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID concurred with our recommendation. In July 2012 the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State, and USAID developed the 3D Planning Guide to serve as a reference tool to help planners within the three agencies better understand each other's plans and processes. As part of the 3D Planning Guide, the agencies included a glossary of key terms, noting which agencies use key terms, and variances across the agencies in how terminology is used to assist planners in understanding and using different terms as they collaborate with each other on humanitarian and development assistance efforts. The issuance of the guide meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should collaborate to develop guidance that provides a common understanding of the terminology used by DOD, State, and USAID related to their humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State concurred with our recommendation. In July 2012 the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State, and USAID developed the 3D Planning Guide to serve as a reference tool to help planners within the three agencies better understand each other's plans and processes. As part of the 3D Planning Guide, the agencies included a glossary of key terms, noting which agencies use key terms, and variances across the agencies in how terminology is used to assist planners in understanding and using different terms as they collaborate with each other on humanitarian and development assistance efforts. The issuance of the guide meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts and ensure that projects are having lasting, beneficial effects, to improve transparency and oversight and to maximize the benefits derived from U.S. government resources devoted to humanitarian and development assistance efforts, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should collaborate to develop guidance that provides a common understanding of the terminology used by DOD, State, and USAID related to their humanitarian and development assistance efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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