Plan Colombia:

Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security Has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance

GAO-09-71: Published: Oct 6, 2008. Publicly Released: Nov 5, 2008.

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In September 1999, the government of Colombia announced a strategy, known as "Plan Colombia," to (1) reduce the production of illicit drugs (primarily cocaine) by 50 percent in 6 years and (2) improve security in Colombia by re-claiming control of areas held by illegal armed groups. Since fiscal year 2000, the United States has provided over $6 billion to support Plan Colombia. The Departments of State, Defense, and Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) manage the assistance. GAO examined (1) the progress made toward Plan Colombia's drug reduction and enhanced security objectives, (2) the results of U.S. aid for the military and police, (3) the results of U.S. aid for non-military programs, and (4) the status of efforts to "nationalize" or transfer operations and funding responsibilities for U.S.-supported programs to Colombia.

Plan Colombia's goal of reducing the cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by 50 percent in 6 years was not fully achieved. From 2000 to 2006, opium poppy cultivation and heroin production declined about 50 percent, while coca cultivation and cocaine production levels increased by about 15 and 4 percent, respectively. These increases, in part, can be explained by measures taken by coca farmers to counter U.S. and Colombian eradication efforts. Colombia has improved its security climate through systematic military and police engagements with illegal armed groups and by degrading these groups' finances. U.S. Embassy Bogot? officials cautioned that these security gains will not be irreversible until illegal armed groups can no longer threaten the stability of the government of Colombia, but become a law enforcement problem requiring only police attention. Since fiscal year 2000, State and Defense provided nearly $4.9 billion to the Colombian military and National Police. Notably, over 130 U.S.-funded helicopters have provided the air mobility needed to rapidly move Colombian counternarcotics and counterinsurgency forces. U.S. advisors, training, equipment, and intelligence assistance have also helped professionalize Colombia's military and police forces, which have recorded a number of achievements including the aerial and manual eradication of hundreds of thousands of hectares of coca, the seizure of tons of cocaine, and the capture or killing of a number of illegal armed group leaders and thousands of combatants. However, these efforts face several challenges, including countermeasures taken by coca farmers to combat U.S. and Colombian eradication efforts. Since fiscal year 2000, State, Justice, and USAID have provided nearly $1.3 billion for a wide range of social, economic, and justice sector programs. These programs have had a range of accomplishments, including aiding internally displaced persons and reforming Colombia's justice sector. But some efforts have been slow in achieving their objectives while others are difficult to assess. For example, the largest share of U.S. non-military assistance has gone towards alternative development, which has provided hundreds of thousands of Colombians legal economic alternatives to the illicit drug trade. But, alternative development is not provided in most areas where coca is cultivated and USAID does not assess how such programs relate to its strategic goals of reducing the production of illicit drugs or achieving sustainable results. In response to congressional direction in 2005 and budget cuts in fiscal year 2008, State and the other U.S. departments and agencies have accelerated their nationalization efforts, with State focusing on Colombian military and National Police aviation programs. One aviation program has been nationalized and two are in transition, with the largest--the Army Aviation Brigade--slated for turnover by 2012. Two National Police aviation programs have no turnover dates established. State, Defense, Justice, and USAID each have their own approaches to nationalization, with different timelines and objectives that have not been coordinated to promote potential efficiencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed that it should continue to improve the coordination of nationalization efforts among Defense, other executive branch agencies, and the government of Colombia. State concurred with our recommendation for a coordinated U.S. government strategy to help the Colombian government gradually assume responsibility for U.S. supported programs. While State has not developed (as of September 2013) an integrated plan for turning over operational and funding responsibilities for U.S.-supported programs to Colombia, State has nationalized some of the key programs that formed the basis for the original Plan Colombia program of assistance. For example, State nationalized the Air Bridge Denial Program and the Plan Colombia Helicopter Program in fiscal year 2013. (The Air Bridge Denial program involved the provision of seven surveillance aircraft to the Colombian Air Force for use in monitoring Colombian airspace for suspicious traffic. The Plan Colombia Helicopter program was the single most important component of Plan Colombia, consisting of 61 fixed and rotary wing helicopters to the Colombian Army Aviation Brigade.) State nationalized the Infrastructure Brigade Program in fiscal year 2009. (The infrastructure brigade program included support for both an aviation component and a ground combat support element, as well as related logistics support and ground facilities.) As we have reported, State and the Department of Defense (DOD) are in the process of nationalizing additional programs. We reported in 2010 that State planned to transfer the cost of fueling and maintaining Colombian National Police helicopters to the Colombian government in fiscal year 2012. More recently, in July 2013, we reported that the DOD plans to nationalize the Regional Helicopter Training Center in 2018. In addition to nationalizing a number of the programs that formed the basis for Plan Colombia, State, DOD, USAID, and the Department of Justice have reduced their support for Colombia. In 2013, we reported that U.S. support for Colombia has decreased from about $601 million in fiscal year 2007 to about $470 million in fiscal year 2011.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Administrator of USAID, and in coordination with the government of Colombia, should develop an integrated nationalization plan that details plans for turning over operational and funding responsibilities for U.S.-supported programs to Colombia. This plan should define U.S. roles and responsibilities for all U.S.-supported military and non-military programs. Other key plan elements should include future funding requirements; a detailed assessment of Colombia's fiscal situation, spending priorities, and ability to assume additional funding responsibilities; and specific milestones for completing the transition to the Colombians.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2012 USAID responded with a letter outlining steps it had taken in response to GAO's recommendation and a document detailing its programs and contributions to the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI). The letter described performance indicators in the current program that address GAO's recommendations by enabling USAID to track illicit crop production in program areas--such as "the number and percentage of coca hectares in CSDI municipalities"--and measure various aspects of sustainability--such as "the number of rapid impact projects implemented by the Government of Colombia" and the "level of private sector funds leveraged in CSDI zones attributable to USG interventions." These measures, if properly implemented, appear to be responsive to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID should develop performance measurements that will help USAID (1) assess whether alternative development assistance is reducing the production of illicit narcotics, and (2) determine to what extent the agency's alternative development projects are self-sustaining.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been closed based on the actions USAID took in response to the same recommendation that was made to USAID.

    Recommendation: The Director of Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID should develop performance measurements that will help USAID (1) assess whether alternative development assistance is reducing the production of illicit narcotics, and (2) determine to what extent the agency's alternative development projects are self-sustaining.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance


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