Posted: 1:45 am ET
In response to last year’s congressional request, USAID/OIG reviewed “USAID’s process in developing its reform plans and its compliance with congressional notification requirements.” We believe this is the first official accounting available on what transpired during Tillerson’s Redesign project, but primarily on the USAID side. We’re looking forward to State/OIG’s review of the project on its side.
The March 8, 2018 USAID/OIG report titled “USAID’s Redesign Efforts Have Shifted Over Time” was publicly posted on March 9, 2018. This report was originally marked “Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)” and when publicly released, some of the appendices were redacted apparently at the assertion of the State Department and USAID that these be withheld from public view (see Appendix D, E and F. “USAID and the State Department have asserted that these appendixes should be withheld from public release in their entirety under exemption (b)(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5). OIG has marked this material SBU in accordance with 22 CFR 212.7(c)(2), which states that the originator of a record is best able to make a determination regarding whether information in that record should be withheld”).
USAID/OIG’s task was to determine (1) how USAID developed its redesign plans pursuant to Executive Order 13781, which were addressed by describing both the events and actions taken by USAID to develop its reform plans and the assessments of USAID’s actions by those involved in the process, and (2) whether USAID complied to date with fiscal year 2017 appropriation requirements.
USAID/OIG interviewed 42 officials from across USAID. Interviewees included USAID employees from the Administrator’s Office, members of the Transformation Task Team, employees across every bureau and independent office, and overseas mission directors. The report says that these individuals were selected because of their knowledge of specific portions of the redesign process. There was also a survey that includes all 83 USAID mission directors worldwide (27 of whom responded). USAID/OIG also interviewed six senior officials from the State Department involved in the joint redesign process “to corroborate USAID testimony and portray a more balanced, objective sequence of events leading to the reform plan submissions.”
“Results of our point-in-time review indicate good intentions by USAID as well as the State Department. However, USAID’s limited involvement in the design of the listening survey, uncertainty about redesign direction and end goals, and disagreement and limited transparency on decisions related to the consolidation of functions and services raise questions about what has been achieved thus far and what is deemed actionable. Given the concerns raised by USAID personnel, transparency—as well as compliance with congressional notification requirements—could prove challenging as redesign plans turn into actions.”
The details below are excerpted from the report:
Redesign process was resource-intensive and ad hoc
- During this nearly 3-month process, USAID reported contributing around 100 employees (mostly senior officials) spanning 21 of its 24 bureaus and independent offices. Ten employees were detailed full-time to the effort. These participants were 48 percent Civil Service employees, 28 percent Foreign Service employees, 7 percent political appointees, and 5 percent contractors.
- The State Department was reported to have brought around 200 people into the process.
- According to work stream leaders, the State Department’s initial guidance for the teams was to “think big” with “no guardrails,” but the lack of boundaries and explicit goals hindered progress. The looming question of whether USAID would merge into the State Department not only distracted teams but further confused the direction of the redesign process.
- The initial lack of direction was viewed as a hindrance by representatives from all work streams.
- Participants described the joint redesign process as “ad hoc.” Interviewees from both the State Department and USAID noted instances when leaders of the joint process seemed unsure of the next steps. For example, a senior State Department official involved in coleading a work stream said there was not a lot of preparation, and the work streams did not know what the final products would be.
Joint disjointed efforts and disagreements
- USAID shared its supplemental plan with the State Department days before the OMB deadline. A senior State Department official stated that the State Department was not pleased with the supplemental plan, noting that some of USAID’s proposals should have been developed through the joint process. The State Department asked USAID to remove some of its proposals relating to humanitarian assistance, foreign policy, and strategic international financing because State Department’s decisions regarding these areas had not been finalized. In the end, the supplemental plan USAID submitted to OMB contained 15 proposals (appendix E), while the version previously submitted to the State Department had 21. The six removed supplemental proposals are shown in appendix F. A senior USAID official noted, however, that USAID let OMB know what the filtered and unfiltered supplemental plan looked like.
- Interviewees from the work streams and various leadership positions noted disagreement on decisions related to consolidation of USAID and State Department functions and services. Members from the work streams at all levels stated that the ESC—tasked to resolve disagreements within the work streams—rarely did so and was often unable to reach consensus on major issues such as the consolidation of IT and management services, or how to divide humanitarian assistance and funding decisions between the State Department and USAID.
- Even after some decisions were thought to have been made, USAID officials reported instances when the State Department would revisit the decisions, forcing USAID to defend what was already considered resolved. This rethinking of decisions led a number of interviewees from both USAID and the State Department to wonder whether there were strong advocates for consolidation of services within the State Department.
- Officials familiar with ESC [Executive Steering Committee] also noted that the committee lacked a formal process to resolve disagreements, and opinions were often split along State Department and USAID lines. As a result, some decisions on consolidation were left on hold and remain undecided.
USAID not part of listening survey decision
- According to a top USAID official, the decision to administer a survey was made by the State Department alone, and USAID had little say as to whether it should participate or how the survey would be administered. USAID was not part of the contracting process with Insigniam and was brought in after most of the details were decided. The week following the issuance of OMB’s memorandum guidance, Insigniam engaged State Department and USAID officials to provide input into developing the listening survey questions but gave them less than 2 business days to provide feedback. A small group of senior USAID officials worked over the weekend to compile suggestions and submitted it by the requested deadline. Despite this effort, USAID officials did not feel their input was sufficiently incorporated into the survey.
Questions about data integrity
- Questions of data integrity were raised, including projected cost savings of $5 billion that would be realized with the proposed reforms—projections several USAID officials characterized as unrealistic. For example, one senior USAID official stated that the contractor responsible for compiling work stream data did not adequately understand USAID and State Department processes before applying assumptions.
- The data and analysis behind the listening survey were also closely held. USAID officials reported requesting and being denied access to the complete, “raw” survey data, which is owned by the State Department. Some interviewees noted that without access to data, it would be difficult to interpret the magnitude of some of the issues identified in the listening survey.
- This concern with data integrity was consistent throughout our interviews. For example, a senior USAID official stated that Deloitte—who was compiling data for work stream decision making—did not obtain an adequate understanding of processes before applying assumptions to them. Other work stream participants said that because data came from different systems in USAID and the State Department, it was difficult to accurately compare scenarios between agencies. According to several interviewees familiar with the data, the process had poor quality assurance. For example, documents were kept on a shared server with no version control. Moreover, interviewees noted that much of the decision-making information for the work streams was “experiential”—based on the backgrounds of people in the subgroup rather than hard data.
- In addition, interviewees from both the State Department and USAID questioned Insigniam’s recommendation to move the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security—a recommendation some claimed was unlikely to have been based on data from the listening survey. This prompted a number of those involved in the reform process to question how survey input had been processed and the validity of the rest of Insigniam’s takeaways.
(NOTE: A source previously informed us that only 5-6 individuals have access to the raw data; and that the survey data is in a proprietary system run by Insigniam. Data collected paid for by taxpayer money is in a proprietary system. We were also told that if we want the data, we have to make an FOIA request to the Transformation Management Office, but our source doubts that State will just hand over the data).
Concerns about inclusiveness and transparency
- A number of interviewees, including some mission directors and heads of bureaus and independent offices, felt the redesign process was not only exclusive, but also lacked transparency. According to senior USAID staff, OMB instructed the Agency to keep a close hold on the details of the redesign. While some mission directors noted that biweekly calls with bureau leadership, agency announcements, and direct outreach kept them informed of the redesign process as it occurred, field-based officials expressed dismay and disillusionment with what seemed to be a headquarters-focused process.
Mission closures and congressional notifications
- [W]hile mission closings remain under consideration, some actions taken by USAID raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. To meet the congressional notification requirement, USAID must notify the Committees on Appropriations before closing a mission or reorganizing an office. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, Section 7034, requires congressional notification “prior to implementing any reorganization of the Department of State or the United States Agency for International Development, including any action taken pursuant to the March 31, 2017, Executive Order 13781.”
- Specific mention of USAID’s offices in Albania, India, and Jamaica as candidates for the chopping block.
Non-notification and violation of FY2017 appropriations legislation
- In the case of USAID/RDMA [Regional Development Mission for Asia], our analyses of USAID’s actions were less conclusive and raised questions about compliance with notification requirements to Congress. On August 17, 2017, the Acting Deputy Administrator requested from the Asia Bureau and USAID/RDMA a closure plan for the regional mission. The closure plan would outline the timing, funding, and staff reductions for a 2019 closure date. It was noted that the closure plan was for discussion purposes only, and USAID leadership would consult with the State Department to ensure that any future decisions would be in line with overall U.S. foreign assistance and foreign policy strategy.
- [O]n August 18, 2017, the Agency removed six Foreign Service Officer Bangkok positions from a previously announced bid list. The Agency also informed the U.S. Embassy Bangkok, counterparts in the State Department’s East Asia/Pacific Bureau, and USAID leadership in the Bureaus of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance and Global Health of a planned closure of USAID/RDMA’s activities. USAID leadership noted that they were given until the end of 2019 to complete the actual phaseout. Our best assessment is that the totality of the Agency’s actions relating to USAID/RDMA— without notifying Congress—violated the spirit of the FY 2017 appropriations legislation. 13
Aspirational savings of $5 to $10 Billion: not based on analysis, “came out of nowhere”
- According to the joint plan, the proposed reforms would yield $5 billion in savings (link inserted) over a 5-year period; however, this amount did not factor the investment costs of $2.8 billion over that same period, which would result in net savings of $2.2 billion. These projections were characterized as unrealistic by several USAID officials. A senior USAID official involved in reviewing data stated that the $5 billion projection was unrealistic given the process used by the State Department and USAID to gather and analyze information. The official stated that the State Department’s reported aspirational savings of $10 billion was not based on analysis, but rather “came out of nowhere.”
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