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Defense > 6. Stabilization, Reconstruction, and Humanitarian Assistance Efforts

Improving the Department of Defense’s evaluations of stabilization, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance efforts, and addressing coordination challenges with the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, could reduce overlapping efforts and result in the more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Why This Area Is Important


The Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State (State), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been heavily involved in stabilization and reconstruction efforts in both wartime and peacetime environments to re-establish security, strengthen governance, rebuild infrastructure, and improve social and economic well-being in foreign countries. These efforts have cost the U.S. government a substantial amount of money—about $72 billion since 2002 for programs to secure, stabilize, and develop Afghanistan, and about $62 billion since 2003 for relief and reconstruction in Iraq. DOD’s role in stabilization and reconstruction efforts has increased, with several new programs emerging in recent years, including the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, and the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund. DOD’s efforts are often similar in nature to State and USAID efforts, and thus interagency coordination is critical for avoiding unnecessary overlap, wasted resources, or fragmentation.

What GAO Found


DOD has been conducting stabilization and reconstruction efforts that are similar to those of USAID and State; and the three agencies face challenges in project evaluation and information sharing which, if not addressed, could result in the potential for unnecessary overlap, wasted resources, and a fragmented approach to U.S. assistance efforts.

As the table below illustrates, DOD has expanded its programs over the past several years. In fiscal year 2011, Congress made available a total of $950 million for CERP, DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, and the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund. State and USAID have also pursued a variety of efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan, including projects to construct roads, develop water and electrical infrastructure, and build the capacity of its government. In Iraq, State and USAID projects have involved education, health, water and sanitation facilities, and building the capacity of the Iraqi ministries. Outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, funding for DOD’s peacetime humanitarian assistance efforts has also increased.

Key DOD Stability, Reconstruction, and Humanitarian Assistance Efforts

Program (Key agencies involved)


Estimated program funding

Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP)


This program began in 2003 and has enabled commanders to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. It has evolved in terms of project cost and complexity. Projects include new construction or rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, ranging from small scale projects like water wells to dormitories and roads. DOD uses some CERP funds to increase agricultural production with projects focused on irrigation systems, wells, and ditches; canal cleanup; and water sanitation.

At least $7.9 billion made available for FYs 2004-2011

Security and Stabilization Assistance Program (also known as the Section 1207 Program)

(DOD, State)

Created in 2006, this program authorized DOD to transfer funds to State for nonmilitary assistance related to stabilization, reconstruction, and security. Activities could include removing unexploded ordnance or reforming extremist educational programs. The authority for the program expired in 2010, but Congress authorized a similar program for DOD and State in fiscal year 2012, called the Global Security Contingency Fund.

Over $350 million provided by DOD to State for FYs 2006-2009; at least $250 million made available in FY 2012 for the new fund

Task Force for Business and Stability Operations


Established in June 2006, the Task Force supports economic stabilization efforts, first in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. Activities include developing businesses, creating jobs, and attracting foreign investment in sectors such as agriculture, energy, banking and finance, and communications and technology.

$828 million made available to the Task Force for FYs 2007-2012

Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund

(DOD, State)

Established in 2011, the fund supports a joint DOD/State program for high-priority, large-scale infrastructure projects that support the U.S. military-civilian effort in Afghanistan.

$800 million for FYs 2011-2013

Peacetime Humanitarian Assistance Programs


DOD’s two key programs are the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid-funded humanitarian assistance program and the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program. Activities, which are typically performed outside of war or disaster environments, include renovating schools and hospitals, drilling wells, providing basic health care, and providing training to prepare for natural disasters. From fiscal years 2005 through 2010 DOD obligated about $328.4 million to support the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid-funded humanitarian assistance program, which represented an increase in obligations of about 60 percent over the time period (figures in constant FY 2011 dollars).

$383 million obligated for FYs 2005-2010 outside of Iraq and Afghanistan

Source: GAO analysis of data from DOD, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, relevant legislation, and GAO’s prior work.

Note: While direct comparison among dollar figures cannot be made, the table is intended to highlight examples of various programs and estimated funding associated with them.


In some cases, especially during the early stages of a wartime environment, it may be advantageous for DOD to conduct stabilization and reconstruction efforts because it can provide its own security. However, questions have been raised as to DOD’s role in performing some of these efforts given that DOD efforts can overlap with those of State and USAID. For example, officials in State, USAID, and DOD have questioned whether DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which has funded economic stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, should continue to reside in DOD or be transitioned to another federal agency, such as USAID, whose role includes providing economic, development, and disaster response assistance around the world in support of U.S. foreign policy and development goals. In 2011, Congress directed that State, USAID, and DOD jointly develop a plan to transition the Task Force’s activities in Afghanistan to State, with a focus on potentially transitioning activities to USAID. To that end, DOD has requested that an outside organization conduct a study that would develop, describe, and assess organizational options for a continued Task Force for Business and Stability Operations for the U.S. government in Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond. According to the Task Force director, as of January 2012, the transition plan was still being developed and will incorporate the results of the outside study, which is due to be completed in February 2012.

As GAO reported in February 2012, some DOD humanitarian assistance efforts outside of Iraq and Afghanistan potentially overlap with those of State and USAID in areas such as health care, infrastructure, disaster preparation, and education. For example, both DOD and USAID have provided basic medical care in Yemen, built schools and education facilities in Azerbaijan, and upgraded and rehabilitated water wells in Pakistan. GAO found that it can be difficult to determine whether DOD’s projects necessarily or unnecessarily overlap with those of the other agencies and suggested that Congress consider the role of DOD in providing humanitarian assistance and clarify the relevant legislation of DOD’s largest humanitarian assistance program, taking into account the roles and similar types of efforts performed by the civilian agencies.[1]

In addition to potentially overlapping efforts, GAO also found that DOD, State, and USAID face challenges in monitoring and evaluating stabilization, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance efforts—which makes it difficult to determine whether projects are effective at meeting their goals. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government,[2] U.S. agencies should monitor and assess the quality of performance over time, and GAO has reported that key practices for enhancing interagency collaboration include developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on the results of collaborative programs.[3] However, several challenges exist with monitoring and evaluation, including:

  • As GAO reported in July 2011, DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations had not developed written guidance, including monitoring and evaluation processes, to be used by its personnel in managing Task Force projects. According to the Task Force director, program management guidance was issued in January 2012 to address this issue. While this is a positive step, until the guidance is fully implemented, it is unknown whether improvements will be made to DOD’s project monitoring and evaluation.
  • As GAO reported in February 2012, DOD was not consistently evaluating its peacetime humanitarian assistance efforts to determine whether they were meeting their intended goals. Specifically, GAO estimated that DOD had not completed 90 percent of evaluations required 1 year after projects were completed, and had also not conducted about half of the evaluations required after 30 days for those programs. GAO also found that DOD had not assessed its evaluation process or requirements to determine whether changes were needed to employ a more risk-based evaluation approach in order to strategically allocate resources.

Another theme that has emerged from GAO’s work relates to challenges the agencies face in sharing information with each other about their respective efforts. Information sharing is a critical tool in national security, but GAO’s work has shown several instances of fragmented information sharing among DOD, State, and USAID that could lead to poor coordination, wasted resources, and potentially duplicative efforts. For example:

  • As GAO reported in November 2010, USAID had not fully implemented a centralized database to provide information on all U.S. government development projects in Afghanistan—a challenge that is still not fully resolved. Thus, U.S. agencies lacked access to project data from other agencies, including DOD, that could contribute to better project planning, eliminate potential overlap, and allow agencies to leverage each other’s resources more effectively.
  • As GAO reported in February 2012, DOD, State, and USAID had various initiatives under way to improve information sharing on humanitarian and development assistance efforts outside of Iraq and Afghanistan but that no framework, such as a common database, existed to enable agencies to readily access information on each other’s efforts to help them leverage these efforts and to avoid unnecessary overlap. The agencies agreed, stating that they are or will be engaging each other to determine how best to develop a common information-sharing mechanism.

Without enhancements to information sharing, agencies do not have full visibility over each other’s efforts, which could lead to “stove-piped” agency planning, potential for overlap, and an inefficient use of resources. Moreover, improved information sharing could identify opportunities for synergy and avoid potential duplication among agencies.

[1]DOD’s largest humanitarian assistance program is the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid-funded humanitarian assistance program.

[2]GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1 (Washington, D.C.: November 1999).

[3]GAO, Results-Oriented Government: Practices That Can Help Enhance and Sustain Collaboration among Federal Agencies, GAO-06-15 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 21, 2005).

Actions Needed


Stabilization, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance efforts have the potential to provide tangible benefits to foreign populations and advance U.S. interests. While the agencies have taken steps to address some of GAO’s recommendations, additional actions are still needed to improve information sharing and project evaluations.

USAID, along with DOD and other relevant agencies still need information on all U.S. government development projects in Afghanistan. Progress has been made, but further effort is needed to ensure that information is accessible and used by all U.S. government agencies involved in U.S.-funded development projects in the country.

As GAO recommended in February 2012, the Secretaries of Defense and State as well as the Administrator of USAID should

  • jointly develop a framework, such as a common database, to formalize their information sharing on humanitarian or development assistance efforts outside of wartime or disaster environments.

As GAO recommended in February 2012, the Secretary of DOD should also

  • employ a risk-based approach to review and modify its humanitarian assistance project evaluation requirements to measure the long-term effects of the projects.

Congress may wish to consider DOD’s role in conducting peacetime humanitarian assistance efforts. As GAO recommended in February 2012, Congress should

  • consider amending the legislation that supports the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid-funded humanitarian assistance program—DOD’s largest humanitarian assistance program—to more specifically define DOD’s role in humanitarian assistance, taking into account the roles and similar types of efforts performed by the civilian agencies.

Addressing these issues could lead to a more efficient use of the billions of dollars devoted to U.S. stabilization and reconstruction efforts abroad.

How GAO Conducted Its Work


The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the products in the related GAO products section. GAO generally analyzed agency documentation and interviewed cognizant agency officials. For example, GAO interviewed DOD and USAID officials, including Army units that had returned from Afghanistan about the type of management and oversight that exists for CERP. GAO analyzed documents and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., Afghanistan, and Iraq as appropriate. GAO analyzed funding, project evaluations, and other program data and documents, and interviewed officials at DOD, State, USAID, nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. embassies.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact


GAO provided a draft of its November 2010 report to DOD and USAID and its February 2012 report to DOD, State, and USAID for review and comment. DOD and USAID generally agreed with GAO’s November 2010 recommendations to improve planning and coordination of water sector projects in Afghanistan, with DOD noting that a centralized U.S. government database for U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, if designed to allow easy data access and sharing among partners, would make a positive contribution. GAO notes that progress has been made in designating a database since GAO’s report was issued but that the agencies need to ensure that the database is accessible and used by all U.S. government agencies involved in U.S.-funded development projects in Afghanistan.

DOD generally agreed with GAO’s February 2012 recommendations to review and modification project evaluation requirements for its peacetime humanitarian assistance efforts to measure long-term effects and ensure compliance with the requirements. DOD noted that it is developing an appropriate method to encourage compliance with the new project evaluation requirements. However, as noted earlier, DOD acknowledged that the absence of project evaluation data will require that it take at least a year to collect data in order to formulate a significant and reliable risk-based approach to project evaluations requirements.

DOD, State, and USAID agreed with GAO’s February 2012 recommendation that they should jointly develop a framework to formalizing their information sharing on peacetime humanitarian and development assistance efforts. DOD stated that it will engage State and USAID to determine what mechanisms could be used to enhance information sharing among the agencies. State noted that it is currently in discussions with DOD and USAID about broadening one particular information-sharing mechanism it uses to include DOD efforts, and USAID said that it will continue to explore opportunities to share information with the other agencies. As part of its routine audit work, GAO will track agency actions to address the extent to which progress has been made to address the identified actions and report to Congress.


For additional information about this area, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or

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