USAID Farmer-To-Farmer Program:

Volunteers Provide Technical Assistance, but Actions Needed to Improve Screening and Monitoring

GAO-15-478: Published: Apr 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2015.

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Thomas Melito
(202) 512-9601
melitot@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Bureau for Food Security administers the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program through implementing partners under 5-year cooperative agreements. USAID provides overall direction, but relies on partners to execute program activities. USAID uses the agreements to establish the partners' objectives, tasks, and responsibilities. Once selected, partners create work plans for USAID's approval that describe potential volunteer assignments, such as providing expertise on grain processing and storage or groundnut production.

Volunteers Provide Expertise on Grain Processing and Groundnut Production in Uganda

Volunteers Provide Expertise on Grain Processing and Groundnut Production in Uganda

Source: GAO. | GAO-15-478

USAID's partners follow consistent practices to implement volunteer assignments, but they have inconsistent practices for screening volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists. All partners develop a scope of work for each assignment, interview candidates, and assess the volunteer's performance. However, only two partners screen candidates against the terrorist watch lists as expected by USAID. These partners and one other partner screen candidates against other watch lists. In addition, partners do not have a means to systematically report negative volunteer assessments to USAID or each other, even though 41 percent of volunteers in the last program cycle were repeat volunteers. Without conducting required checks and providing information on prior negative assessments, partners risk selecting volunteers who could undermine F2F's goals and reputation.

USAID uses its monitoring and evaluation process to adjust the program, but does not review information on a key aspect of the program's implementation. In response to a program-wide evaluation, USAID revised performance indicators, established a committee that discusses best practices, and increased training for implementing partner staff. However, USAID does not systematically review information on the extent to which volunteers meet the objectives identified in the scopes of work. Reviewing volunteer trip reports against scopes of work could improve USAID's understanding of the volunteers' performance and provide additional insight on implementation progress and whether volunteers are being effectively used.

Why GAO Did This Study

First authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill, the F2F program leverages U.S. agricultural expertise by sending volunteers on short-term assignments to provide technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing and middle-income countries. During fiscal years 2009 through -2013, F2F funded about 2,984 volunteer assignments and obligated an average of $11.5 million annually.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress mandated that GAO conduct a review of the F2F program. GAO examined (1) how USAID administers the program, (2) how partners implement volunteer assignments and screen volunteers, and (3) the extent to which USAID uses monitoring and evaluation to manage the program. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed program documents and met with USAID F2F officials and current implementing partners. In addition, we conducted fieldwork in two countries that we selected based on factors, including the number of volunteers assigned.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that USAID (1) ensure F2F partners screen volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists, (2) develop guidance on the other types of background checks implementing partners should perform, (3) ensure that implementing partners systematically share negative volunteer assessment information, and (4) monitor the extent to which the objectives and activities in the scopes of work are accomplished. USAID concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID agreed with the findings in GAO's report and implemented corrective actions to resolve the cited issue. In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID issued a letter to implementing partners reiterating expectations of adherence to the cooperative agreement provisions for screening potential volunteers for ties to terrorism when conducting background checks. All implementing partners replied to that letter confirming their agreement and compliance on these issues. Additionally, USAID updated its F2F volunteer manual to incorporate this guidance on screening volunteer candidates for ties to terrorism. USAID documented that they had taken these actions in a letter GAO received on August 13, 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance USAID's oversight of the program, the Administrator of USAID should ensure F2F implementing partners screen volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists, as described in their cooperative agreements and USAID guidance.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID agreed with the findings in GAO's report and implemented corrective actions to resolve the cited issue. In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID met with implementing partners to jointly review current policies and propose procedures and standards for screening volunteers and develop a standard of good practice for systematic volunteer background checks. USAID issued a letter to implementing partners encouraging adoption of such best practices. All implementing partners replied to that letter confirming their agreement and compliance on this issue. Additionally, USAID updated its F2F volunteer manual to incorporate best practices on systematic background checks for potential volunteers. USAID documented that they had taken these actions in a letter GAO received on August 13, 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance USAID's oversight of the program, the Administrator of USAID should develop guidance for the implementing partners on the types of background checks they should perform as they screen volunteer candidates.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID agreed with the findings in GAO's report and implemented corrective actions to resolve the cited issue. In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID issued a letter to implementing partners requesting partners to inform USAID immediately of any negative volunteer experience and encouraging implementing partners to share experience among the other F2F partners. All implementing partners replied to that letter confirming their agreement and compliance on this issue. Furthermore, USAID responded to the specific recommendation from GAO by updating the Farmer-to-Farmer manual to ensure that partners systematically share negative volunteer assessment information with USAID and each other. USAID documented that they had taken these actions in a letter GAO received on August 13, 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance USAID's oversight of the program, the Administrator of USAID should update the F2F program manual to ensure that implementing partners systematically share negative volunteer assessment information with USAID and each other.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID agreed with the findings in GAO's report and implemented corrective actions to resolve the cited issue. In response to GAO's recommendation, USAID has required that the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program management team spot check scopes of work, assignment reports, and related host organization and other documentation on at least 10 percent of volunteer assignments carried out each year by implementing partner organizations. This is expected to involve 80-100 assignments per year. F2F program management is to conduct follow-up discussions with F2F implementing partners to address any issues that arise from this monitoring. USAID documented that they had taken these actions in a letter GAO received on August 13, 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance USAID's oversight of the program, the Administrator of USAID should further develop its monitoring process to review the extent to which volunteers accomplish objectives and activities specified in the scopes of work.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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