Human Trafficking:

State and USAID Should Improve Their Monitoring of International Counter-trafficking Projects

GAO-19-77: Published: Dec 4, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 4, 2018.

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Jennifer Grover
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groverj@gao.gov

 

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Human trafficking victims are often held in slave-like conditions and forced to work in areas such as the commercial sex trade, factories, and agriculture.

The Departments of State and Labor, and the U.S. Agency for International Development managed 120 counter-trafficking projects in FY 2017. These projects were carried out by grantees and others, and overseen by the agencies.

We found some weaknesses in State’s and USAID’s monitoring of projects we reviewed, including the use of inconsistent and incomplete information to assess project performance.

We made 5 recommendations to improve monitoring.

A woman picks cotton in Uzbekistan.

This is a photo of a woman picking cotton.

This is a photo of a woman picking cotton.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jennifer Grover
(202) 512-7141
groverj@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Departments of State (State), Labor (DOL), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—through agreements with implementing partners—managed 120 international counter-trafficking in person projects during fiscal year 2017.

GAO reviewed a selection of 54 counter-trafficking projects (37 State, 3 DOL, and 14 USAID), and found that DOL and USAID had fully documented their monitoring activities, while State had not. All three agencies used similar tools to monitor the performance of their projects, such as monitoring plans, performance indicators and targets, progress reports, and site visits. GAO found, however, that State did not fully document its monitoring activities for 16 of its 37 projects (43 percent). GAO found that State did not have the monitoring plans or complete progress reports for one-third of its projects and often lacked targets for performance indicators in its final progress reports. State officials said they had not required targets for each performance indicator for the projects GAO reviewed, or had not set targets due to limited resources in prior years. State has taken steps to improve its monitoring efforts, including issuing a November 2017 policy that requires targets to be set for each performance indicator and developing an automated data system that would require targets to be recorded. However, because the pilot data system allows targets to be recorded as “to be determined” and does not have controls to ensure entry of actual targets, it is uncertain whether performance targets will be regularly recorded. Without full documentation of monitoring activities and established performance targets, State has limited ability to assess project performance, including project efficiency or effectiveness.

GAO reviewed the reliability of project performance information for 5 of the 54 counter-trafficking projects (2 State, 1 DOL, and 2 USAID) and found that State and USAID used inconsistent and incomplete performance information, while DOL used consistent and complete information. For example, some quarterly indicator results in State and USAID progress reports were inconsistent with annual total results, and narrative explanations for significant deviations from performance targets were sometimes not present in quarterly reports. According to agency officials, performance information from these projects is regularly used not only for direct project oversight but also for internal and external reporting, program decisions, and lessons learned. GAO found that State's and USAID's processes lack sufficient controls to ensure the reliability of project performance information, but did not find inadequate controls in DOL's process. For example, neither State nor USAID consistently used automated checks on indicator results to ensure consistency and completeness of performance indicator result calculations. In contrast, DOL used automated checks as part of its process. Without implementing controls to ensure that performance information is consistent and complete, State and USAID officials cannot fully or accurately understand what projects are, or are not, achieving, and how their efforts might be improved.

Why GAO Did This Study

Human trafficking is a pervasive problem throughout the world. Victims are often held against their will in slave-like conditions.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 includes a provision for GAO to report on the programs conducted by specific agencies, including State, DOL, and USAID, that address trafficking in persons. Among other objectives, this report (1) identifies the recent projects in international counter-trafficking in persons that key U.S. agencies have awarded to implementing partners; and, for selected projects, assesses the extent to which key agencies have (2) documented their monitoring activities and (3) ensured the reliability of project performance information.

GAO reviewed State, DOL, and USAID project documents and interviewed agency officials. GAO reviewed monitoring documents for 54 of the 57 projects that were active from the beginning of fiscal year 2016 through the end of fiscal year 2017. Of these 54 projects, GAO selected a nongeneralizable sample of 5 projects, based primarily on largest total award amounts, for review of the reliability of project performance information.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations to State and one recommendation to USAID, including that both agencies establish additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of project performance information, and that State maintain monitoring activity documentation and establish targets for each performance indicator. State and USAID concur with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Jennifer Grover at (202) 512-7141 or groverj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with GAO's recommendation and has taken corrective action in response. State's TIP Office has updated its guidance documents for program officers and grantees to provide clear direction on setting targets for indicators. Specifically, the TIP Office revised its standard operating procedures, updated May 2019, to remind program officers that grantees must set targets for all indicators before activities begin. It also revised its notice of funding opportunity and progress report template for grantees to include a target setting requirement-grantees must set targets for each indicator and if a target cannot be set, the grantee must clarify what date the target will be set. GAO reviewed documents showing at least one example of an instance in which a target was not set at the beginning of the project but was set at a later date by the program officer and grantee.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) establishes targets for each performance indicator. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with GAO's recommendation and has taken corrective action in response. State's TIP Office has established policies and procedures for maintaining required monitoring documentation for its projects. The TIP Office updated its standard operating procedures in May 2019 to reflect that (1) copies of all official award documents, including monitoring plans and progress reports, must be stored electronically in State's new grants management database, and (2) targets-which are documented in grantees' quarterly progress reports-must be set for all indicators before implementation of the activity begins. In addition, the TIP Office informs new grantees of the requirement to complete and electronically upload quarterly progress reports in the notice of funding opportunity and mandatory award provisions of the award agreement. GAO reviewed evidence showing that the State TIP Office used its new database to maintain monitoring plans on file for projects. GAO also reviewed evidence showing that the State TIP Office used the new database to maintain the latest quarterly progress report for a project, and documented targets for all performance indicators in the project's latest quarterly progress report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the TIP Office maintains documentation of all required monitoring activities, including monitoring plans, progress reports, and performance targets. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with GAO's recommendation and has begun to take corrective action in response. In an April 17, 2019 letter to congressional committees, State noted its commitment to address GAO's recommendation through implementing additional controls for the agency's counter-trafficking in persons projects. Specifically, State reported that the State TIP Office is taking steps intended to ensure that new grants management data systems facilitate improved consistency and completeness of performance information and integrate features related to the risk assessment and monitoring. As of September 2019, State officials said that performance monitoring tools in its new grants management data system are not yet fully deployed. In the interim, State TIP Office officials have participated in pre-deployment testing for this data system and are being trained on the use of this system. The State TIP Office's current grantees now submit quarterly progress reports and copies of their financial reports, and receive feedback on these submissions, through this new system. Once State finalizes and deploys its new grants management data system, GAO will determine whether the State TIP Office has established additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of performance information

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the TIP Office establishes additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of performance information that the TIP Office uses to monitor counter-trafficking in persons projects. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with GAO's recommendation and has begun taking corrective action in response. In an April 17, 2019 letter to congressional committees, State noted its commitment to address GAO's recommendation through implementing additional controls for the agency's counter-trafficking in persons projects. As of September 2019, the State TIP Office has taken steps to establish a process to review and update performance indicators, with the participation of implementing partners, which State officials said is intended to ensure efficient and effective project monitoring. This process, which is not yet finalized, requires project officers to conduct a documented annual review of each project, including performance indicators and targets. State officials said that they expect the process to be finalized by November 2019. Once State finalizes and implements this process, GAO will determine whether the State TIP Office has established additional controls to ensure that project monitoring remains efficient and effective.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the TIP Office establishes a process to review and update performance indicators, with the participation of implementing partners, to ensure that project monitoring remains efficient and effective. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In its comments on the report, USAID concurred with the recommendation. In a March 11, 2019 letter to congressional committees, USAID noted its commitment to address GAO's recommendation through implementing additional controls for the agency's counter-trafficking in persons projects. Specifically, USAID is implementing data systems and taking additional steps intended to strengthen data management, improve record-keeping, increase data quality, and build capacity of local partners. USAID set a target date of April 2020 to address GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of USAID should establish additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of performance information that USAID uses to monitor counter-trafficking in persons projects. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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