Foreign Assistance:

USAID Needs to Improve Its Workforce Planning and Operating Expense Accounting

GAO-03-1171T: Published: Sep 23, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2003.

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USAID oversees humanitarian and economic assistance--an integral part of the U.S. global security strategy--to more than 160 countries. GAO recommended in 1993 that USAID develop a comprehensive workforce plan; however, human capital management continues to be a high-risk area for the agency. GAO was asked to testify on how changes in USAID's workforce over the past 10 years have affected its ability to deliver foreign aid, the agency's progress in implementing a strategic workforce planning system, and whether its reported operating expenses reflect the full costs of delivering foreign aid.

USAID has evolved from an agency in which U.S. direct-hire staff directly implemented development projects to one in which U.S. direct-hire staff oversee the activities of contractors and grantees. Since 1992, the number of USAID U.S. direct-hire staff declined by 37 percent, but the number of countries with USAID programs doubled and, over the last 2 years, program funding increased more than 78 percent. As a result of these and other changes in its workforce and its mostly ad-hoc approach to workforce planning, USAID faces several human capital vulnerabilities. For example, attrition of experienced foreign service officers and inadequate training and mentoring have sometimes led to the deployment of staff who lack essential skills and experience. The agency also lacks a "surge capacity" to respond to evolving foreign policy priorities and emerging crises. With fewer and less experienced staff managing more programs in more countries, USAID's ability to oversee the delivery of foreign assistance is becoming increasingly difficult. USAID has taken steps toward developing a workforce planning and human capital management system that should enable the agency to meet its challenges and achieve its mission, but it needs to do more, such as conducting a comprehensive skills assessment and including its civil service and contracted employees in its workforce planning efforts. USAID's reported that operating expenses do not always reflect the full costs of administering foreign assistance because the agency pays for some support and oversight activities done by contractors with program funds. As a result, the amount of program funds directly benefiting foreign recipients is likely overstated.

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