U.S. Nonmilitary Assistance to Colombia Is Beginning to Show Intended Results, but Programs Are Not Readily Sustainable
GAO-04-726: Published: Jul 2, 2004. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 2004.
Since 2000, the U.S. government has provided a total of $3.3 billion to Colombia, making it the fifth largest recipient of U.S. assistance. Part of this funding has gone toward nonmilitary assistance to Colombia, including programs to (1) promote legitimate economic alternatives to coca and opium poppy; (2) assist Colombia's vulnerable groups, particularly internally displaced persons; and (3) strengthen the country's democratic, legal, and security institutional capabilities. GAO examined these programs' objectives, reported accomplishments, and identified the factors, if any, that limit project implementation and sustainability. We also examined the challenges faced by Colombia and the United States in continuing to support these programs.
Although U.S. nonmilitary assistance programs have begun to produce some results, individual projects reach a relatively small number of beneficiaries, face implementation challenges, and may not be sustainable. For example, projects designed to promote legitimate economic alternatives to illicit crop cultivation have helped about 33,400 families. However, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimated in 2000 and 2001 that as many as 136,600 families needed assistance, and these projects face implementation obstacles, such as difficulty marketing licit products and operating in conflictive areas. U.S. assistance to Colombia's vulnerable groups has provided support to many internally displaced persons, but these program beneficiaries do not receive all of the assistance they need, and there is no systematic way for beneficiaries to transition from emergency aid to longer-term development assistance. The U.S. government has made some progress toward facilitating democratic reform in Colombia, but projects face certain obstacles, such as limited funding and security constraints. Despite the progress made by the three nonmilitary assistance programs, Colombia and the United States continue to face long-standing management and financial challenges. The Colombian government's ability to contribute funds for nonmilitary assistance programs is limited by a number of domestic and foreign factors, and Colombia's longstanding conflict poses additional challenges to implementing and sustaining nonmilitary assistance efforts. The U.S. government has not maximized the mutual benefits of its nonmilitary assistance programs and has not established a mechanism for vulnerable groups to transition from emergency aid to longer-term assistance. Furthermore, the Departments of State and Justice and USAID have not established timelines for achieving their stated objectives, nor have State and USAID developed a strategy to turn programs over to the Colombian government or to the private sector.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In July 2004, (DRUG CONTROL:U.S. Nonmilitary Assistance to Colombia is Beginning to Show Intended Results, but Programs Are Not Readily Sustainable, GAO-04-726) we recommended that the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Administrator, USAID, develop a detailed plan for improving systematic coordination among the three nonmilitary assistance programs in Colombia. This plan should include a timeline for achieving stated objectives, future funding requirements, and a strategy for sustaining the results achieved. In 2004, after the issuance of our report, USAID revised its alternative development strategy for the period 2006-2008, to promote improved coordination and sustainability of the results achieved. USAID strategy documents specifically noted that the GAO report highlighted the need for USAID initiatives to be better coordinated and sustainable, and that the revised strategy would address these concerns. Ongoing audit work in 2008 on USAID Colombia programs has confirmed that State, USAID, and Justice have taken steps to improve coordination on non-military programs. Additionally, audit work has confirmed that USAID has taken steps to improve the sustainability of its programs in Colombia.
Recommendation: Because of Colombia's prolonged conflict and the limited financial resources available for nonmilitary assistance programs, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Administrator, USAID, should develop a detailed plan for improving systematic coordination among the three nonmilitary assistance programs in Colombia. The plan should include clearly defined objectives and future funding requirements for the programs; a timeline for achieving the stated objectives; and a strategy for sustaining the results achieved, including transitioning program responsibility to the government of Colombia and the private sector. Particular attention should be placed on establishing a coordination mechanism between State and USAID to facilitate internally displaced persons' transition from emergency aid to longer-term assistance. The Secretary of State should provide this information to the Congress for consideration in the fiscal year 2006 appropriations cycle.
Agency Affected: Department of State