CRS on Foreign Aid Reform, National Strategy, and the QDDR

There’s this 16-page write up from the Congressional Research Service on foreign aid reform, national strategy and the QDDR:

“As of January 2010, reportedly, all working groups had submitted their interim reports and had their interim reports reviewed with the QDDR chairs and co-chairs. The working groups’ findings will be summarized in one interim report that is expected to be sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) some time in April. The interim report will also be made available to the public. A final QDDR report is expected to be completed and released in September 2010. That may be too late for it to have an impact on the FY2011 budget and, with this year’s compressed congressional schedule because of mid-term elections, it is unlikely that any related authorizations will be passed by Congress this year. Some do, however, expect the QDDR to have an impact on the FY2012 budget and may require new statutory authorities to be passed by the 112th Congress.”

Read more on the CRS take via Secrecy News:

FY 2012 runs from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. 2012 is not just the John Cusack movie, or the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar, it is also a presidential election year. 

Houston, we have a problem … at USAID

Whether you like it or not, USAID is a poor shadow of its old self.  Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) which provided a background paper to the Obama-Biden Transition Project had stark things to say about USAID staffing:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires. While the Foreign Service union recognizes the need for mid-career hires, its membership has responded negatively to hiring at the level of FS 03 and 02.

Despite DLI, a new administrator and an ongoing QDDR, the organizational future does not look bright to me. Unless Congress wades into this issue forcefully, USAID is stuck in a big guacamole swamp.

In a related note, the USAID AFSA VP has just released a survey on the State Department’s ICASS operation with some troubling results on the State Department and USAID relationship:

“In countries where the consolidation has taken place, the tension between Embassy and USAID staff has increased. USAID employees feel ignored and upset at the treatment they have received from their State counterparts. There is no longer a team concept in these countries and Ambassadors and DCMs do not seem supportive of their complaints. Although each country has a Joint Management Council under ICASS, their one vote is not enough to make changes to decisions which are hurting USAID. A large amount of USAID funds go to subsidize Embassy operations and USAID staff does not believe they are getting their money’s worth. USAID executive officers are spending an inordinate amount of time checking and objecting to the poor support, equipment and services provided by the Embassy. It is an unequal relationship and the situation is deteriorating.”

The survey provides a quick background of the ICASS operation at the State Department:

On March 15, 2010, the USAID AFSA office asked overseas Mission Foreign Service Officers, US Personal Service Contractors, and Foreign Service Nationals to respond to a survey regarding the State Department’s International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) operation. The ICASS process, which is being phased in worldwide in countries where USAID and the U.S. Embassies exist, involves the consolidation of overseas agency administrative operations such as motor pool services, warehousing, administrative supplies, maintenance, leasing, and many other operations with the purpose of improving efficiency and reducing administrative costs. Input to this survey, which closed on April 2, 2010, was requested anonymously to better understand the real life impact on those most closely affected by significant administrative changes under ICASS.

Initially, the ICASS was sold to non-State Department agencies based on three key “pillars”: transparency, local control and voluntary participation.  In theory, ICASS leadership was to be assigned to the most competent and skilled agency. USAID, normally the second biggest operation after the Embassy in these countries, was encouraged to participate in this system. In practice, over time, a clear mandate from Washington, developed that forced most USAID Missions to accept the State Department as the agency in charge regardless of the fact that perhaps USAID was the best suited for such a role and was operating very efficiently and effectively. The concept of transparency, local control and voluntary participation evaporated. Control of administrative operations shifted to the Embassy in these countries.

There were 1,073 responders reporting from overseas USAID Missions of which 43% were Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), 13% were U.S. Personal Services Contractors (USPSC), and 44% were Foreign Service Nationals (FSN). About 72% of the posts are already consolidated with their Embassy or in the process. Only 27% reported that consolidation had been fully or somewhat participatory and transparent and only 6% reported that USAID interests were considered a priority in the move to consolidate.

The obvious conclusion we can make based on the results of this survey is that there IS a problem. Without question, development programs are being harmed by the forcible consolidation. There is also a clash of cultures between State and USAID. It is even possible that State employees are feeling the stress of taking on more and incompatible activities they would prefer that USAID continue administering. The ICASS implementation was not collaborative and there is a very good possibility that costs have increased and that productivity has decreased.

One has to ask what was the problem that ICASS was aiming to fix? USAID administrative services were not broken and yet they were targeted to be FIXED. ICASS principles were not followed and the end result has been widespread dissatisfaction and even anger. While there may be some administrative services which make sense to combine, this can be a highly individual country team decision and should never be forced on any one Mission.

The USAID AFSA survey summary suggests that the best solution is to stop the consolidation:

“The best solution is to stop the consolidation, do a scientific review, audit or investigation by a neutral party, and return back to USAID control those services whose “consolidation” is causing financial or operational harm. We have a new Administration at USAID which is looking at bringing us back to being the world’s premier development agency. These will be empty words, unless we listen to the needs of our staff. Staying the course will only be detrimental to our mission.”

Read the entire survey here.

This consolidation partly gobbles USAID (did you hear that buurrp?)  Nobody would probably put it politely that way.  But the concern and anxieties are real.  Not too long ago, the State Department, did chew and gobble the entire USIA. And we know what happened to that one.