Afghanistan Development:

U.S. Efforts to Support Afghan Water Sector Increasing, but Improvements Needed in Planning and Coordination

GAO-11-138: Published: Nov 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2010.

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Water is critical to the stability of Afghanistan and is an essential part of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Since 2002, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have awarded $250 million for water projects. This report examines (1) the alignment of U.S. water goals and projects with Afghan water-sector development goals; (2) U.S. agencies' coordination of water-sector efforts among themselves, with the Afghan government and the donor community; (3) U.S. efforts to manage and monitor these water projects; and (4) U.S. efforts to build sustainability into water-sector projects. GAO reviewed and analyzed planning, funding, and performance documents from U.S. agencies and implementing partners, and interviewed U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., and U.S., Afghan, and donor officials in Afghanistan.

The goals outlined in the U.S. government's 2010 Inter-Agency Water Strategy generally align with Afghan government strategic goals for the water sector. The Strategy identifies short, medium, and long-term goals to be achieved between 2010 and 2014. Additionally, since 2002, the U.S. government has implemented a wide range of water projects throughout Afghanistan to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation, agriculture irrigation, and water-sector management. These projects generally align with Afghan water-sector goals. The United States expects to accelerate development efforts in the water sector and estimates that an additional $2.1 billion will be needed to fund these efforts from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2014. The Government Performance and Results Act and several U.S. strategic documents concerning operations in Afghanistan emphasize the importance of interagency coordination. GAO has reported on the importance of interagency coordination and collaboration when multiple U.S. agencies are involved in U.S. counterterrorism-related efforts. GAO's review showed that the United States has taken steps to better coordinate water-sector development projects but that additional efforts are needed. For example, the U.S. government has developed an Infrastructure Working Group, an Inter-Agency Water Strategy, and has started to meet on a regular basis. However, an interagency implementation plan called for in the strategy has not been completed. Also, USAID and DOD have not developed a centralized database to enhance coordination, which GAO previously recommended. Moreover, U.S. agencies generally do not meet on a regular basis with all the relevant ministries in the Afghan government, and they lack complete data concerning other donor projects to maximize the U.S. investment in development projects. USAID's Automated Directives System outlines USAID's performance management and monitoring procedures. GAO found that gaps existed in USAID's performance management and monitoring efforts for water sector projects in Afghanistan. For example, while 4 of the 6 implementers of projects GAO reviewed established performance indicators, some did not always establish targets for the indicators as required. In addition, although USAID collected quarterly progress reports from 5 of the 6 water project implementers for the projects GAO reviewed, it did not analyze and interpret this information as required. Finally, though USAID has identified several alternative monitoring procedures staff can use to help mitigate monitoring challenges in high threat environments, USAID has not effectively ensured that such guidance was disseminated to staff in Afghanistan. The U.S. government has included a focus on building sustainability into U.S.-funded water projects in Afghanistan. Recent U.S. strategies have emphasized the importance of project sustainability. GAO has identified two key elements to ensuring water project sustainability: enhancing technical and managerial capacity to maintain projects within the institutions with water-sector responsibilities, and ensuring funding is available to keep projects operational after they have been completed. Ongoing USAID water projects included in this review have incorporated sustainability initiatives. DOD guidance also emphasizes sustainability. However, DOD officials have acknowledged the difficulties of sustaining water projects in Afghanistan. GAO makes several recommendations to the USAID Administrator, in conjunction with DOD and other relevant agencies, to improve planning, coordination, and management of U.S.-funded water projects in Afghanistan. This includes developing an interagency plan and designating a centralized database. GAO also recommends steps the USAID Administrator needs to take to improve performance management. USAID and DOD generally concurred with our recommendations.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance the coordination of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID, in conjunction with the Secretaries of DOD and other relevant agencies should develop an interagency implementation plan, as called for in the 2010 U.S. Government Inter-Agency Water Strategy that (1) establishes agreement on roles and responsibilities of the various U.S. agencies with respect to the short, medium, and long-term goals identified in the strategy; (2) identifies and address the leveraging of U.S. resources; and (3) outlines means to operate effectively across agency boundaries.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID and DOD concurred with our recommendation. In response, U.S. agencies, through the U.S. Embassy's Infrastructure Working Group, have developed a Synchronization Matrix of U.S. military and civilian water sector projects and meet on a monthly basis with the Afghan government to assess, plan, and update project implementation, including short, medium, and long-term goals, and leverage the resources of the respective U.S. agencies. While U.S. agencies have not developed an implementation plan in the form recommended by GAO, the Synchronization Matrix combined with regular meetings between U.S. agency officials and relevant Afghan ministries on short, medium, and long-term goals, have resulted in improved interagency planning and better leveraging of U.S. resources on water-related issues.

    Recommendation: To enhance the coordination of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID, in conjunction with the Secretaries of DOD and other relevant agencies should consider designating Afghan Info or some other database as the centralized U.S. government project-development database for U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. This database should, among other things, ensure that the information in the database (1) captures all agency development efforts, and (2) is accessible to all U.S. government agencies involved in U.S.-funded development projects in Afghanistan.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Open

    Comments: USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation. On October 2, 2011, in response to our recommendation, the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan designated Afghan Info as the foreign assistance reporting database for U.S. Mission-Afghanistan, requiring all Embassy Kabul agencies and sections using foreign assistance funds to report their program and project information into Afghan Info. However, more steps are required to fully implement the recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor agency efforts.

    Recommendation: To enhance the coordination of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID, in conjunction with the Secretaries of DOD and other relevant agencies should take steps, in coordination with relevant international donors, to explore options for establishing a formal mechanism to enhance coordination on water sector development among the donor community and the Afghan government.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID and DOD concurred with our recommendation. In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID, other relevant U.S. agencies, and the primary international donors have begun to meet on a monthly basis to coordinate their respective water projects. Donors have agreed on a formal water sector coordination structure, similar to that used for the power sector in Afghanistan that will include international donors and the Afghan government.USAID has agreed to draft a proposal for such coordination and will present it to the other donors and to the Afghan government for their agreement. USAID has proposed to fund the secretariat or a similar administrative unit to support water sector coordination through 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance performance management of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID should ensure that implementing partners establish targets for all indicators.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID concurred with our recommendation and responded that the new Mission Performance Monitoring Plan, which was approved in December 2010, requires all implementing partners to set targets for each of their indicators. USAID also stated that all implementing partners are now required to submit their quarterly performance data into Afghan Info against the targets that have been set. Finally, USAID stated it will continue to work with implementing partners to establish targets for any new indicators that are developed as part of their Performance Monitoring Plans.

    Recommendation: To enhance performance management of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID should consistently analyze and interpret program data, such as determining the extent to which annual targets are met.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID responded by stating that all implementing partners are now required to submit their quarterly performance data into Afghan Info, providing USAID the ability to analyze and interpret program data against annual targets. USAID also stated that the Mission would hold, beginning in June 2011, semi-annual performance reviews of submitted performance data for quality and completeness of data; appropriateness of indicators and targets; progress towards targets; and identification of any necessary changes to targets, indicators, or programs.

    Recommendation: To enhance performance management of U.S.-funded water projects, the Administrator of USAID should take steps to ensure that Mission Afghanistan staff are aware of new Automated Directives System guidance on monitoring in high-threat environment, such as reissuing the guidance or incorporating a discussion of the guidance as part of pre-deployment training.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID concurred with the recommendation and in response to GAO findings, USAID emailed the pertinent guidance on monitoring in high-threat environments to Mission Office Directors and Deputies for distribution to their staff, and shortly thereafter, the Mission's Front Office convened a meeting with the Mission's Office Directors to discuss the USAID guidance. In addition, starting in January 2011, USAID included the topic of monitoring in high-threat environments in pre-deployment training.

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