Overseas Conflicts:

U.S. Agencies Have Coordinated Stabilization Efforts but Need to Document Their Agreement

GAO-18-654: Published: Sep 27, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2018.

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Jessica Farb
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FarbJ@gao.gov

 

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The United States has a national security interest in promoting stability in countries affected by violent conflict. We looked at how 3 federal agencies and an independent institute support conflict prevention, mitigation, and stabilization efforts, such as removing explosives hidden near homes.

Although these entities have worked together in Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria, the federal agencies have not documented their agreement on key areas of collaboration such as clarifying roles and responsibilities for stabilization efforts.

We recommended that they formally document their agreement on coordination for stabilization in written guidance.

Example of U.S. Department of State Stabilization Effort in Iraq

U.S. Department of State's implementing partner trains Iraqi nationals on the proper use of metal detectors for demining.

U.S. Department of State's implementing partner trains Iraqi nationals on the proper use of metal detectors for demining.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jessica Farb
(202) 512-7114
FarbJ@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Departments of State (State) and Defense (DOD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)—an independent, federally funded institute—reported conducting various efforts to address conflict prevention, mitigation, and stabilization for Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria in fiscal year 2017. For example, in Iraq, State supported efforts to remove improvised explosive devices from homes and infrastructure (see figure); USAID contributed to the United Nations to restore essential services; DOD provided immediate medical trauma supplies to the World Health Organization to treat injured civilians; and USIP conducted facilitated dialogs to enable local reconciliation in areas liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Example of U.S. Department of State Stabilization Effort in Iraq Example of U.S. Department of State Stabilization Effort in Iraq img  data-cke-saved-src=

In conducting U.S. conflict prevention, mitigation, and stabilization efforts, State, USAID, DOD, and USIP have addressed aspects of key collaboration practices such as elements of bridging organizational cultures and leadership. However, the agencies have not formally documented their agreement on coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts through formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices. GAO found the following, for example, with regard to the extent key collaboration practices have been used by these entities.

Bridging organizational cultures: U.S. agencies have established various mechanisms to coordinate their efforts, such as interagency working groups and staff positions focused on coordination. USIP convenes interagency actors, including State, USAID, and DOD through various programs and events.

Defining outcomes and accountability: One or more agencies have established some common outcomes and accountability mechanisms for their stabilization efforts in Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria. Moreover, through an interagency review of U.S. stabilization assistance, State, USAID, and DOD identified a need to develop an outcome-based political strategy outlining end states for U.S. stabilization efforts and strategic analytics to track and measure progress, among other needs.

Written guidance and agreements: Although State, USAID, and DOD have developed a framework for stabilization, they have not documented their agreement on the key collaboration practices identified, such as defining outcomes and accountability and clarifying roles and responsibilities. According to key practices for enhancing interagency collaboration, articulating agreements in formal documents can strengthen collaborative efforts, and reduce the potential for duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.

Why GAO Did This Study

The United States has a national security interest in promoting stability in conflict-affected countries to prevent or mitigate the consequences of armed conflict, according to the 2017 National Security Strategy. State, USAID, and DOD have reported that a collaborative government approach is an essential part of maximizing the effectiveness of U.S. efforts in conflict-affected areas.

GAO was asked to review U.S. conflict prevention, mitigation, and stabilization efforts abroad. This report (1) describes examples of conflict prevention, mitigation, and stabilization efforts that U.S. agencies and USIP conducted in Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria and their goals in fiscal year 2017 and (2) examines the extent to which U.S. agencies and USIP incorporated key collaboration practices to coordinate their efforts. GAO collected data from the agencies and USIP on their efforts and goals in Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria. GAO selected these countries based on U.S. national security interests, among other criteria. GAO reviewed agency and USIP documents, interviewed officials, and conducted fieldwork in Iraq, Nigeria, and Jordan. GAO assessed coordination against key practices identified by GAO to enhance interagency collaboration.

What GAO Recommends

State, USAID, and DOD should document agreement on their coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts though formal written guidance and agreements addressing key collaboration practices. The agencies concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or FarbJ@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation. In commenting on the report, State reported that the GAO report reiterated a key finding of the Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), released in June 2018, by highlighting the importance of a collaborative interagency effort with clear roles and responsibilities, and stated that State, USAID, and DOD are committed to codifying agreed roles and responsibilities. According to State, the three agencies aim to develop a coordinated memorandum of agreement outlining these roles and responsibilities and ensuring respective departments and agencies have the necessary structures in place to perform these roles. State reported that in the coming year it will apply the SAR principles in select focus countries and monitor the implementation process which will inform a final memorandum that will promote an integrated, agile approach to stabilizing conflict-affected areas. In addition State reported that the three agencies are developing a framework and risk management approach for stabilization-related co-deployment. We will continue to monitor State's implementation of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in collaboration with the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Secretary of Defense, should document their agreement on coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts through formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices such as defining outcomes and accountability and clarifying roles and responsibilities for U.S. stabilization efforts. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: USAID concurred with this recommendation. In November 2018, USAID reported that State, USAID, and DOD have agreed to document their agreement in formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices, and are committed to codifying their respective roles and responsibilities in a Memorandum of Agreement by September 2019. According to USAID, the three agencies are implementing the recommendations and policy framework established in their joint Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), released in June 2018, and will monitor this implementation to inform the final Memorandum. We will continue to monitor USAID's implementation of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in collaboration with the Secretaries of Defense and State, should document their agreement on coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts through formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices such as defining outcomes and clarifying roles and responsibilities for U.S. stabilization efforts. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In commenting on the report, DOD reported that it planned to work with State and USAID to document interagency coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts through formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices. DOD reported that the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and USAID Administrator endorsed the Stabilization Assistance Review, released in June 2018, to formalize coordination, roles and responsibilities, and a common definition of stabilization. According to DOD, the department is working with State and USAID to develop a global Memorandum of Agreement to enable forward deployment of interagency civilians to better synchronize U.S. stabilization efforts. We will continue to monitor DOD's implementation of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Secretary of State, should document their agreement on coordination for U.S. stabilization efforts through formal written guidance and agreements that address key collaboration practices such as defining outcomes and accountability and clarifying roles and responsibilities for U.S. stabilization efforts. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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