Foreign Assistance:

State Department Foreign Aid Information Systems Have Improved Change Management Practices but Do Not Follow Risk Management Best Practices

GAO-09-52R: Published: Nov 21, 2008. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2008.

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In January 2006, the Secretary of State announced major changes in the U.S. government's process for directing and managing foreign assistance programs in a reorganization and revision of operational procedures commonly known as the F Process. These changes were intended to ensure the effective use of U.S. foreign assistance to meet broad U.S. foreign policy objectives and more fully align programs carried out by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). To administer the F Process, the Secretary created the new Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance (State/F) with a Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA), who carries the rank of Deputy Secretary of State and also serves concurrently as USAID Administrator. To support State and USAID planning, budgeting, and reporting of foreign assistance under these reforms, State/F developed two new data information systems, the Foreign Assistance Coordination and Tracking System (FACTS) and FACTS Info. FACTS, which State/F began to develop in mid-2006, is a database used to collect foreign assistance planning and reporting data, including plans for implementing current-year appropriated budgets and performance planning and reporting data. FACTS Info, which State/F created in 2007, is a system used to aggregate, analyze, and report data on U.S. foreign assistance programs under the authority of the DFA. Although State and USAID are the only U.S. agencies currently using both systems, State/F expects the systems to eventually include data from other agencies involved in foreign assistance, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Department of Treasury, among others. In connection with our ongoing work addressing the management of State/F and at Congressional request, we examined (1) the creation and development of FACTS and FACTS Info and (2) whether State/F is following best practices for configuration management--the process of establishing and maintaining control over changes made to a system--and risk management of FACTS and FACTS Info.

In conjunction with USAID, State/F developed FACTS I in December 2006 (initially known as FACTS) as a database used to collect foreign assistance planning and reporting data, including plans for implementing current-year appropriated budgets and performance planning and reporting data for State, USAID, and the over 25 other U.S. departments and agencies implementing U.S. foreign assistance programs. However, only programs under the authority of the DFA are currently detailed in FACTS. Based on a State/F survey of over 100 State and USAID users in 2007, as well as our interviews with State and USAID officials in Washington, D.C., and the six countries we visited, FACTS I was slow and unreliable during the first 2 years of the F Process. To remedy these problems, in February 2008, State/F hired a contractor to develop FACTS II, which was deployed worldwide in October 2008. State/F created FACTS Info to aggregate, analyze, and report data on U.S. foreign assistance programs under the authority of the DFA. During the initial pilot phase, which began in September 2007, FACTS Info was accessible to a limited number of State and USAID users; however, it is expected to expand its usage to additional State/F and USAID users when the pilot phase ends, currently planned for fall 2008. FACTS II and the ongoing pilot of FACTS Info have recently implemented new configuration management processes, but both lack adequate risk management procedures, such as formalized procedures to plan for foreseeable risks. State/F has taken steps to address these challenges, such as updating the project management plan and implementing change tracking software to address certain weaknesses, particularly to both systems' configuration management. However, as of October 2008, State/F had not fully implemented improvements to the systems' risk management; State officials noted that they plan to complete these improvements by December 2008. Because both FACTS II and FACTS Info lack formal processes for risk management, State/F cannot ensure that risks are identified, analyzed, tracked, and mitigated, increasing the likelihood that potential problems become actual problems. Moreover, State/F was unable to mitigate a key risk that led to problems with the development of FACTS II. Without improved risk management processes, risks may not be effectively managed. To help ensure that FACTS II and FACTS Info are implemented successfully and perform as designed, we are recommending that the Secretary of State direct the DFA to better utilize best practices for risk management procedures to both systems. In particular, we are recommending that the DFA (1) identify and develop a comprehensive list of system development risks for FACTS and FACTS Info, and (2) fully develop risk mitigation plans for FACTS and FACTS Info.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that, to help ensure the Foreign Assistance Coordination and Tracking System II (FACTS II) and FACTS Info are implemented successfully and perform as designed, the Secretary of State direct the Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA) to better utilize best practices for risk management procedures to both systems. In particular, we recommended that the Director of Foreign Assistance (1) identify and develop a comprehensive list of system development risks for FACTS and FACTS Info. In December 2008, State issued a risk registry that includes 27 systems development risks for both FACTS and FACTS Info and a description of how State had either already addressed or planned to address the risks. Based on our review of the documents and actions taken by State since November 2008, we determined that State had taken appropriate steps to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FACTS II and FACTS Info are implemented successfully and perform as designed, the Secretary of State should direct the DFA to better utilize best practices for risk management procedures to both systems. In particular, the Secretary of State should direct the DFA to identify and develop a comprehensive list of system development risks for FACTS and FACTS Info.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that, to help ensure Foreign Assistance Coordination and Tracking System II (FACTS II) and FACTS Info are implemented successfully and perform as designed, the Secretary of State direct the Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA) to better utilize best practices for risk management procedures to both systems. In particular, we recommended that the Director of Foreign Assistance fully develop risk mitigation plans for FACTS and FACTS Info. In April 2009, State approved a combined risk management plan for both FACTS and FACTS Info. Based on our review of the documents and actions taken by State since November 2008, we determined that State had taken appropriate steps to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FACTS II and FACTS Info are implemented successfully and perform as designed, the Secretary of State should direct the DFA to better utilize best practices for risk management procedures to both systems. In particular, the Secretary of State should direct the DFA to fully develop and implement formalized risk mitigation plans for FACTS and FACTS Info.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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