International Cash-Based Food Assistance:

USAID Has Established Processes to Monitor Cash and Voucher Projects, but Data Limitations Impede Evaluation

GAO-16-819: Published: Sep 20, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 2016.

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

 

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Sending cash and vouchers instead of food

Historically, the United States shipped most of its emergency food aid overseas. In recent years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has also provided cash or vouchers that recipients—such as Syrian refugees—can use to buy food. USAID funding for this assistance grew from $76 million to $432 million in fiscal years 2010-2015 and could continue to rise.

USAID has processes to monitor cash and voucher projects. Yet it hasn't collected all the data it needs to evaluate their effectiveness, and some monitoring measures are flawed. We made recommendations to improve USAID's data and measures.

USAID Implementing Partner Officials Surveying Beneficiaries of Cash Transfer Projects

Two pictures of officials interviewing the recipients of food aid in Liberia and Kenya.

Two pictures of officials interviewing the recipients of food aid in Liberia and Kenya.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

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

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its implementing partners have established processes to monitor cash transfer and food voucher projects. To monitor the implementation of these projects, USAID has assigned monitoring roles and responsibilities to staff, is developing country monitoring plans and monitoring tools, and is working to verify information that partners have provided through actions such as conducting site visits, and speaking with beneficiaries. To ensure that assistance is delivered according to their procedures and to the targeted beneficiaries, implementing partners monitor distributions, and interview beneficiaries regarding the distribution of the assistance. In addition, implementing partners conduct postdistribution surveys to gather information about the relevance, efficiency, and effectiveness of the assistance (see figure).

USAID Implementing Partner Representatives Surveying Beneficiaries of Cash Transfer Projects

HL_5 - v05 - 100133 - OT

Incomplete reporting and weaknesses in certain performance indicators limit USAID's ability to use monitoring data to evaluate cash transfer and food voucher projects' performance. GAO's review of 14 final reports, which USAID requires for each project, found that a majority of the reports lacked required data elements, such as prices for key staple foods. Only 1 report included all 12 required data elements, and the other reports were missing up to 8 elements. As a result, USAID has limited ability to assess the overall performance of these projects. Further, GAO found weaknesses in USAID's indicators for measuring cash and voucher projects' timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and appropriateness. USAID's indicator for timeliness does not track delays in implementation. In addition, the indicator for cost-effectiveness does not include a standardized unit for measuring project costs. Further, the indicator for project appropriateness does not have associated benchmarks for measuring cash transfer and food voucher projects' impact on local markets. As a result, USAID lacks information that would be useful for evaluating the projects' effectiveness relative to that of in-kind food aid. According to standards for internal control in the federal government, management should use quality information, including relevant data from reliable sources, to achieve an agency's objectives.

Why GAO Did This Study

For more than 60 years, the United States provided assistance to food-insecure countries primarily in the form of food commodities procured in the United States and transported overseas. In recent years, the U.S. government has increasingly provided food assistance in the form of cash transfers or food vouchers. In fiscal years 2010 through 2015, USAID funding for Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) for cash transfers and food voucher projects grew from about $76 million to nearly $432 million.

GAO was asked to review USAID's monitoring and evaluation of cash-based food assistance. This report examines, among other things, (1) USAID's and implementing partners' processes for monitoring cash transfer and food voucher projects and (2) the extent to which monitoring data reported to USAID can be used to evaluate the performance of such projects. GAO analyzed program data, interviewed relevant officials; and conducted fieldwork in Kenya and Liberia, selected on the basis of criteria such as funding and types of projects. GAO also reviewed the final reports for a nonprobability sample of closed cash transfer and food voucher projects.

What GAO Recommends

USAID should (1) take steps to ensure compliance with its requirements for data in final reports and (2) strengthen the indicators it uses to measure the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and appropriateness of cash transfer and food voucher projects. 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: In response to this recommendation, USAID agreed to standardize data collected in final reporting by soliciting and hiring program support officers for each of its geographic teams. In December 2016, USAID entered into a support contract with staff responsible for ensuring full compliance with the agencies' existing processes and procedures, including the receipt, completeness, and compliance of reporting required under award for cash-transfer and food voucher projects. To assist these staff in their compliance reviews, in September 2017, USAID developed a completeness checklist that lists all programmatic and financial reporting requirements in quarterly, annual, and final reports submitted by implementing partners for cash-transfer and food voucher projects.

    Recommendation: To strengthen USAID's monitoring and evaluation of cash transfer and food voucher projects and help ensure improved program oversight of these projects, the USAID Administrator should take steps to ensure that final reports submitted for cash transfer and food voucher projects comply with USAID's minimum data requirements.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In comments to our report, USAID concurred with our recommendation. In December 2016, USAID released an updated Annual Program Statement for Emergency Food Assistance Programs, a guidance document for implementing partners, with new language designed to strengthen the indicators USAID uses to measure the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and appropriateness of these projects. In September 2017, USAID told us that the strengthened indicators had allowed staff to (1) identify delays in distributions of cash-based food assistance as compared to project proposals more easily, (2) track and analyze cost metrics across the cash-based food assistance portfolio more consistently, and (3) understand whether the reasons for choosing the modality at the inception of the program held true during implementation. For example, one of USAID's implementing partners reported in its fiscal year 2017 Annual Results Report that unsafe roads and lack of security escorts affected its timely delivery of aid assistance to internally displaced persons. In its first quarterly report for fiscal year 2018, the same USAID partner described the reasons for cost modifications and why the transition from one modality (in-kind food aid) to another (vouchers) would need to be gradual in one geographic region of the country. Consequently, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: To strengthen USAID's monitoring and evaluation of cash transfer and food voucher projects and help ensure improved program oversight of these projects, the USAID Administrator should strengthen the indicators USAID uses to measure the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and appropriateness of Emergency Food Security Program cash transfer and food voucher projects.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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