Delays in Haiti Reconstruction Connected to USAID Staffing Difficulties

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released its report on the post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti. The report notes that of the total funding of $411.6 allocated for reconstruction after the earthquake, only $3.1 million or less than 1% had been expended:

As of September 30, 2011, USAID and State allocated $411.6 million for bilateral post-earthquake infrastructure construction activities in Haiti using $356.9 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010 supplemental funds and $54.8 million from regular fiscal year appropriations.9 In addition, USAID and State had obligated $48.4 million10 (11.8 percent) and expended $3.1 million (0.8 percent) of the total allocated, as shown in table 2.11.

Quick background on Haiti from GAO:

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 75 percent of the population living on less than $2 per day and the unemployment rate estimated at 60 to 70 percent. These conditions were exacerbated when the largest earthquake in Haiti’s recorded history devastated parts of the country, including the capital, on January 12, 2010. Since then, Haiti has suffered from a cholera epidemic that has affected over 450,000 persons and caused over 6,000 deaths. In addition, Haiti has experienced political uncertainty following the earthquake. Due to the inconclusive presidential election of November 2010, the new President was not inaugurated until May 2011. On May 13, 2011, the U.S. and Haitian governments signed the Haiti Reconstruction Grant Agreement.

The GAO report cites USAID’s staffing difficulties as a factor in delaying USAID infrastructure construction activities in Haiti. Excerpts below:

Within a month after the earthquake, 10 of the mission’s 17 U.S. direct-hire staff12had departed Haiti, leaving the mission with 7 staff in country to manage a program heavily involved in massive relief operations and anticipating an increase in reconstruction activities. According to mission officials, U.S. direct-hire staff were permitted to leave for several reasons, primarily because approximately 40 percent of U.S. embassy housing was damaged or destroyed, the school for mission staff children was damaged and not functional, and staff were experiencing emotional challenges after the earthquake.

To fill the U.S. direct-hire vacancies, USAID posted 10 routine agency wide job announcements in March 2010, but no U.S. direct-hire staff applied. According to USAID officials, potential applicants did not apply due to, among other things, the damaged school, uncertainty about the quality of life in Haiti, and the lack of financial or other incentives in the job announcements. In May 2010, USAID again posted the 10 job announcements and, this time, attracted a number of applicants because the postings included financial incentives and waived the requirement that successful applicants bid on positions in four USAID-designated critical priority countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sudan—upon completion of their tours in Haiti.

Having received a sufficient number of applicants for the May 2010 posting, the mission soon selected the staff. However, U.S. direct-hire staff did not begin to arrive in Haiti until early 2011 because, among other things, households and families had to be moved and some staff required up to 6 months in language training. In addition to filling existing positions, USAID received approval from the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti in February 2011 for 15 additional U.S. direct-hire staff to manage the surge in earthquake-related funding.14 These positions were announced and some candidates selected when the approval was granted in February 2011. Eleven had arrived as of September 2011 and, according to mission officials, all are expected to arrive in Haiti by February 2012. However, the mission will be implementing infrastructure construction activities until at least 2015, according to USAID planning documentation. During the next 4 years, U.S. direct-hire staff will have opportunities to bid for other positions at other posts. As U.S. direct-hire staff leave Haiti, the mission will need to replace them in order to continue the progress of infrastructure construction activities.
To meet the increased need for mission staff to manage the program, the agency temporarily hired or reassigned staff, including staff from its Haiti Task Team in Washington, D.C., to complete more than 400 temporary duty assignments for periods ranging from one week to several months.17For example, USAID used personal services contracts to hire staff to provide financial management expertise; assigned headquarters-based staff from its Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to manage and oversee rubble removal and other efforts; and provided fiscal year 2010 supplemental funding to an implementing organization to manage people who repaired roads, cleaned drainage canals, and performed other rehabilitation activities.

According to mission officials, planning and implementation of reconstruction activities were delayed because the few staff remaining in Haiti were heavily involved in recruiting, placing, and training temporary staff in Haiti. Senior mission staff stated that, for many temporary staff positions, the mission had to develop detailed scopes of work for the positions and then brief and train newly arrived staff on substantive issues. In addition, mission staff noted that the continuity of efforts was sometimes problematic as multiple staff, who turned over frequently, managed the efforts.

HAITI RECONSTRUCTION: Factors Contributing to Delays in USAID Infrastructure Construction | November 2011(pdf)