The United States has appropriated over $16 billion since fiscal year 2002 for development efforts in Afghanistan, implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense (DOD). USAID, through its assistance program, and DOD, through its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), have implemented development projects focusing on similar initiatives, such as improving Afghanistan's road, water, and other infrastructure sectors. This line of effort is an integral part of the U.S. integrated civilian-military campaign plan focused on countering insurgents in Afghanistan and requires extensive interagency coordination and information sharing. There is a potential for duplication of agencies' efforts.
Agencies involved in the implementation of development projects in Afghanistan—principally USAID and DOD—have not adopted a centralized data system that tracks all U.S. government-funded Afghan development efforts and is accessible by all relevant agencies. GAO has made recommendations for such action and agencies have concurred with those recommendations. Without a centralized data system to improve visibility of individual development projects, the U.S. government may not be able to fully leverage available resources and risks duplicating efforts and wasting taxpayer dollars, as a result of fragmented or overlapping efforts.
Maintaining an accessible data system that promotes interagency information sharing is particularly important in an environment such as Afghanistan, where several agencies are involved in similar development efforts that are dispersed throughout the country. In a review of U.S.-funded road projects in Afghanistan, GAO reported in July 2008 that, despite CERP guidance requiring DOD to provide CERP-funded project information to a USAID-maintained database, DOD had not done so. As a result, a comprehensive database of all U.S.-funded road projects in Afghanistan did not exist. Moreover, DOD officials said that because of missing documentation and frequent staff rotation, they did not know where some CERP-funded roads were built. GAO recommended that information on DOD's CERP-funded road projects be included in a USAID-maintained database, and DOD concurred.
However, in a May 2009 report that reviewed DOD's coordination of CERP-funded projects in Afghanistan with USAID, GAO found that, while the two agencies had mechanisms in place to facilitate coordination, they lacked a common database accessible to all parties involved in development efforts in Afghanistan. GAO noted that DOD used a classified database—Combined Information Data Network Exchange—to track CERP-funded projects, while USAID used a database called GeoBase to track its development projects. GAO further noted that in early 2009, USAID officials were granted access to the unclassified portion of DOD's database, but DOD officials did not have access to USAID's GeoBase database at the time.
Subsequently, in late 2009 USAID initiated a new database system, known as Afghan Info, to replace GeoBase. According to USAID, Afghan Info is intended to provide a comprehensive and transparent interagency picture of how project implementers use foreign assistance resources to support U.S. objectives in Afghanistan. USAID officials said they would like the Afghan Info system designated as the official system for data on U.S. assistance activities in Afghanistan, subject to Ambassador-level approval. However, GAO's review of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan's water sector completed in November 2010 found that a centralized database that contains information on all U.S.-funded development projects, including information on water sector projects, still did not exist. Each agency continues to maintain its own project tracking system that identifies agency-specific information on water projects in Afghanistan.
A USAID official responsible for developing the Afghan Info database noted that Afghan Info did not include data from any other agency, aside from unclassified quarterly CERP data that DOD began providing to USAID in February 2010. This official also did not know whether the system was being used to coordinate water sector development in Afghanistan. Moreover, senior DOD officials told GAO they were not familiar with the Afghan Info system or the data it contained. For its CERP-related data, DOD continues to use the Combined Information Data Network Exchange, which was not intended as a platform for interagency coordination. Agency officials have acknowledged that having access to project data from other agencies would contribute to better project planning, eliminate potential overlap, and allow agencies to leverage each other's resources more effectively.
To enhance interagency coordination and to help ensure there is no overlap or duplication and to increase accountability for use of agency funds, USAID, in consultation with DOD and other relevant U.S. agencies, should consider designating Afghan Info or some other database as the centralized U.S. government 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.
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