USAID/Afghanistan: Audit Says Civilian Assistance – Not on Target

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USAID’s OIG office had just released its audit of USAID/Afghanistan’s Afghan Civilian Assistance Program. Quick summary below excerpted from the report:

The main goal of the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (the program) is to provide assistance to Afghan families and communities that have suffered losses as a result of military operations against insurgents and the Taliban. Assistance under the program is generally provided in goods and services to those who have suffered losses─a farmer might receive a tractor or livestock and a grocer might receive merchandise to restock his store. The program is being implemented through a $27 million, 3-year cooperative agreement (April 2007 to April 2010) with the International Organization for Migration (IOM, the implementer). As of December 31, 2008, $18.5 million had been obligated and about $6.4 million had been spent for program activities. (See page 3.)

The audit concluded that the program is not on target to assist eligible beneficiaries under the program. The implementer reported that as of September 1, 2008, close to the midpoint of the program, only 803 of the more than 6,000 eligible families under the program were receiving assistance (about 13 percent). As of January 22, 2009, the implementer reported that it had actually assisted only about 40 percent of the estimated target number of 5,102 eligible families included in a recovery plan it had developed in October 2008. (See page 5.)

Program Assistance Was Not Effectively Monitored and Evaluated
We found that the mission was not substantively involved in the program and had not followed up regularly on the status of the implementation plan, monitoring and evaluation plan, and quarterly program reports. The mission also had not performed sufficient site visits of program activities or properly monitored the staffing of key positions. The mission’s current technical representative indicated that, because of other responsibilities, he had worked on the program only as time permitted. Until recently, the mission was not aware of the program’s slow progress. The lack of key planning documents, early in the life of the program, has impeded the program’s progress. Because of program delays, many of the intended beneficiaries did not receive assistance expeditiously.

Program Progress Was Impeded by Understaffing
The program cannot achieve its intended results, under an ambitious recovery plan, without sufficient staffing to keep pace with changing conditions. As of January 2009, only 56 of the 86 staff members that are needed to meet program targets had been acquired, and the program implementer was not keeping pace with changing program conditions. High-risk security conditions affected the staffing levels, and the need for program changes was not addressed effectively. Staffing shortages and slow reactions to changing conditions have delayed the program’s progress.

Program Implementation Approaches Can Be Improved
The Code of Federal Regulations states that recipients of USAID awards are responsible for managing and monitoring each program. The audit identified four issues that are making implementation of the program inefficient and less effective. Implementer officials said that they were too focused on program implementation issues or had not thought of changes needed to streamline the implementation process. Improved approaches should be implemented during the course of the program to ensure that resources are being used efficiently and effectively.

USAID/Afghanistan’s written comments on the draft report are included in its entirety, without attachments, as appendix II to the OIG report (see pages 16 to 23).

The program’s new end date is now November 30, 2010. No mention on how much more money would be needed for the seven-month extension, or a realistic expectation about this program. The implementer was only able to assist 40% of the target beneficiaries in the two years plus that it was running the program. And it will be able to bridge the 60% gap in less than a year? Is that really possible?

Related Item:
Audit of USAID/Afghanistan’s Afghan Civilian Assistance Program | Audit Report No. 5-306-10-004-P | December 15, 2009 | PDF