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..

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    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.

    Status: Open

    Comments: 7/2013: No action taken as of July 2013.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: 6/2012: In May 2012 DOD updated its guidance for the 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 of DOD's OHDACA program, but as of July 2012 had not yet issued an instruction. 7/2013: The Office of Partnership Strategy and Stability Operations within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy has begun drafting a DOD Instruction on humanitarian assistance, and is currently working on deconflicting the scope and depth of the document with other stakeholders and existing DOD guidance to ensure consistency within the department's policies. The Office of Partnership Strategy and Stability Operations anticipates that the instruction will be published sometime in fiscal year 2014.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: No action taken by the Department of Defense as of July 2012.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has taken some steps to develop appropriate measures of performance to evaluate its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) humanitarian assistance programs, but has not yet developed 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. DSCA is in the process of formalizing the budget allocation process for inclusion in the Security Assistance Management Manual, and officials stated they expect the budget allocation process to be implemented in fiscal year 2015. The department is currently accumulating data on 30-day evaluations to determine how to appropriately employ a risk-based approach to project evaluation requirements and expects to begin analyzing the results of the data in August 2013 to develop a risk based approach. DOD is currently in the process of developing an approach for their 1-year project evaluations and expects that these evaluations to be fully developed in fiscal 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 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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action taken by the Department of Defense as of July 2012. 7/2013: DOD officials stated that in 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 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

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD officials are in the process of updating DOD Instruction 2205.02, which guides humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) activities, to include guidance on assessments. The planned revisions will allow combatant commands to use HCA funds to perform project assessments, require all project assessments to be completed in the Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System (OHASIS), require 30 day project assessments on all projects, and provide a framework for the combatant commands on the completion of 1-year project assessments. DOD expects that revisions to the instruction will be completed by the end of fiscal year 2013 or early in fiscal year 2014.

    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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: In July 2011 the Department of Defense issued a concept of operations for the Global Theater Security Cooperation Management Information System. The concept of operations stated that the Global Theater Security Cooperation Management Information System will be capable of pulling data on security cooperation activities, like humanitarian assistance activities, from other relevant U.S. government agency systems and will provide users with the ability to view, manage, assess, and report security cooperation activities like humanitarian and development assistance efforts. The concept of operations identifies our review on DOD's Humanitarian Assistance Efforts such as a guidance document used to develop the G-TSCMIS initiative, and the completion of the concept of operations represents positive initial steps towards providing DOD, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other U.S. agencies with improved visibility over each other's efforts. However, until the agencies identify a common framework (database), our recommendation will not be fully implemented. As of July 2012, no common framework had been designated by the agencies. 7/2013: 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 State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action has been taken by the Department of State as of July 2012. 7/2013: 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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action taken by the U.S. Agency for International Development as of July 2012. 7/2013: 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 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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action taken by the Department of Defense as of July 2012. 7/2013: 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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action taken by the Department of State as of July 2012. 7/2013: 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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2012: No action taken by the U.S. Agency for International Development as of July 2012. 7/2013: 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.

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