USAID Acquisition and Assistance:

Actions Needed to Develop and Implement a Strategic Workforce Plan

GAO-08-1059: Published: Sep 26, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2008.

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The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) over the years has shifted from conducting its own activities to managing acquisition and assistance (A&A) instruments--contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements--awarded to and implemented by mainly nongovernmental entities. For fiscal years 2002 through 2007, USAID's A&A obligations doubled from about $5 billion to $10 billion. A&A staff--contracting officers (CO) and A&A specialists--are primarily responsible for managing A&A instruments. GAO was asked to examine (1) USAID's capacity to develop and implement a strategic A&A workforce plan and (2) the extent to which USAID has implemented a mechanism to evaluate its A&A function. GAO analyzed USAID documents and data, interviewed officials, visited missions in seven countries, and administered a survey to A&A staff.

USAID lacks the capacity to develop and implement a strategic A&A workforce plan because it is missing two key elements: (1) sufficiently reliable and up-to-date data on its overseas A&A staff levels and (2) comprehensive information on the competencies of its overseas A&A staff. Data on the number of overseas A&A specialists collected by two USAID offices--the Office of Acquisition and Assistance (OAA) and the Office of Human Resources (OHR)--are unreliable or out of date. GAO found significant discrepancies between these offices' data sets, and officials acknowledged that their A&A staff level data are neither reliable nor up-to-date. In addition, USAID has not collected comprehensive competency information on its overseas A&A specialists. GAO's model of strategic human capital planning notes the importance of these data in developing a strategic A&A workforce plan that could enable the agency to better match staff levels to changing workloads. At the missions GAO visited, GAO found that the numbers and competencies of A&A staff did not match A&A workloads. The number of A&A staff with the necessary competencies was less than adequate at some missions, while at others it was more than adequate, according to agency officials. For example, officials at the mission in Mali said they have delayed time-sensitive projects because key A&A staff were not available when needed to approve contracts, while officials at the mission in Indonesia said the current number of A&A staff may be more than adequate. Most of the A&A survey respondents overseas also reported difficulty in altering staffing patterns to meet A&A workload demands. Although USAID has made some efforts to address its A&A workforce issues, these efforts do not constitute a strategic A&A workforce plan that takes into account the entire A&A workforce. Without accurate and reliable A&A staff data, USAID does not have adequate information to address current workload imbalances. USAID has not implemented an evaluation mechanism to provide oversight of its A&A function. OAA's Evaluation Division is responsible for providing oversight to ensure that A&A operations follow USAID policies, primarily by assessing the agency's A&A operations worldwide. However, for fiscal years 2003 through 2005, it conducted on-site evaluations at only 9 of its targeted 85 missions. In fiscal year 2007, the Evaluation Division developed a new evaluation mechanism that is expected to use scorecard evaluations, in which COs self-assess their A&A operations, and a risk-based approach to determine locations for further on-site visits. The division has completed piloting these scorecard evaluations at four missions and identified weaknesses in A&A operations. For example, the division found that 1 mission lacked resources to adequately monitor contractor performance. The division's goal is to implement this evaluation mechanism, including on-site visits to at least 5 missions, within 2 years. However, agency officials informed GAO that the Evaluation Division currently does not have the staff level needed to fully implement this evaluation mechanism. Without implementing the evaluation mechanism, USAID cannot certify the overall adequacy and effectiveness of management controls for the A&A function.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of August 2013, USAID provided us with "USAID Five-Year Workforce Plan, FY 2011-2015," dated December 2010, but the plan lacks information about its process to collect, analyze, and maintain sufficiently reliable and up-to-date data on the agency's staff levels. In its June 2010 comments on a follow-up report, in which GAO recommended that USAID develop a comprehensive workforce plan that takes into account USAID's total workforce (GAO-10-496), USAID indicated that it was developing a comprehensive, automated competency management system and expected that it would be completely operational by fiscal year 2013. USAID also recognized the need for reliable staffing data and that it planned to improve the reliability of the systems currently used to track its workforce data. In June 2012, a USAID Human Resources official noted that the agency was developing a workforce plan and a Consolidated Workforce Planning Model, but these had not been implemented. As of August 2013, USAID provided its workforce plan that included quantitative data on USAID's staff levels, but the plan did not discuss any specific process to collect, analyze and maintain reliable staffing data.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's management and oversight of its A&A function, the Administrator of USAID should develop and implement a strategic A&A workforce plan that matches resources to priority needs, such as the evaluation of the A&A function. Specifically, the strategic A&A workforce plan should include a process to collect, analyze, and maintain sufficiently reliable and up-to-date data on the agency's A&A staff levels.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of August 2013, USAID provided us with "USAID Five-Year Workforce Plan, FY 2011-2015," dated December 2010, but the plan lacks comprehensive information on staff competencies. In June 2010 comments on a follow-up report, in which GAO recommended that USAID develop a comprehensive workforce plan that takes into account USAID's total workforce (GAO-10-496), USAID indicated that it was developing a comprehensive, automated competency management system and expected that it would be completely operational by fiscal year 2013. USAID's Competency Management System had completed competency assessments for some USAID staff, but had not completed the competency assessment for its overseas staff. In June 2012, a USAID Human Resources official noted that the agency was developing a workforce plan and a Consolidated Workforce Planning Model, but these had not been implemented. As of August 2013, USAID provided its workforce plan that included competency management initiatives and discussed USAID's training and development efforts, but the plan did not discuss any specific process to collect, analyze and maintain comprehensive information on staff competencies.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's management and oversight of its A&A function, the Administrator of USAID should develop and implement a strategic A&A workforce plan that matches resources to priority needs, such as the evaluation of the A&A function. Specifically, the strategic A&A workforce plan should include a process to collect, analyze, and maintain comprehensive information on the competencies of the A&A staff.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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