Rule of Law Assistance:

State and USAID Could Improve Monitoring Efforts

GAO-21-14: Published: Nov 9, 2020. Publicly Released: Nov 9, 2020.

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Improving the rule of law in countries overseas helps to protect fundamental rights, acts as a foundation for democratic rule and economic growth, and combats crime and extremism. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development allocated over $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance in the past 5 years.

Monitoring how this aid is managed is key to identifying potential issues with projects and knowing when to take corrective action. State and USAID have done so for many assistance projects, but they didn't always identify risks or assess monitoring reports.

We recommended that the agencies better monitor such projects.

Sign that says, "Department of State" outside of its building on C Street in Washington, DC.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Chelsa Kenney Gurkin
(202) 512-2964
gurkinc@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Department of State (State) Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (State/INL) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided sufficient documentation for GAO to conclude that they followed most key practices for monitoring rule of law assistance for the awards we reviewed from selected countries. However, the agencies did not provide sufficient documentation demonstrating that they followed other key practices. Overall, State/INL followed these practices in most cases and USAID did so in almost all cases. Specifically, GAO's review of 19 State/INL and USAID projects found that USAID in all cases, and State/INL in most cases, followed key practices for planning a monitoring approach, such as developing project goals, objectives, and performance indicators. However, State/INL did not consistently demonstrate that project representatives included project goals and objectives in monitoring plans, and did not consistently identify risks in those plans (see fig.). Furthermore, neither agency could demonstrate that project representatives consistently assessed and approved monitoring reports from implementing partners. Following key monitoring practices helps to ensure that agencies stay well-informed of project performance and take corrective action when necessary, and that projects achieve their intended results. Without complete documentation, management cannot be sure that these practices are being followed.

State/INL and USAID Alignment with Key Practices for Monitoring Rule of Law Assistance

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State and USAID have various processes to conduct, share, and use rule of law project evaluations to improve future efforts. Both agencies disseminate evaluations through online systems, briefings, and presentations, and have established approaches to track the implementation of evaluation recommendations, such as through spreadsheets or other documentation. The agencies use these evaluations in various ways to inform project design and strategic planning.

Why GAO Did This Study

Rule of law strengthens protection of fundamental rights and serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth. According to State, strengthening judicial and legal systems in certain countries is vital to U.S. national security interests. State and USAID allocated over $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance overseas from fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

GAO was asked to review monitoring and evaluation of U.S. rule of law assistance around the world. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which the agencies followed key practices for monitoring rule of law projects in selected countries, and processes agencies have in place to use evaluations to inform future rule of law assistance. GAO analyzed relevant laws and agency policies and other documents, and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and four countries—Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, and the Philippines—selected based on funding amounts and other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that State/INL establish procedures to ensure project goals, objectives, and risks are identified in monitoring plans. GAO also recommends that State/INL establish and USAID enhance procedures to ensure project staff assess and approve monitoring reports. State and USAID concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Chelsa Kenney Gurkin at (202) 512-2964 or gurkinc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that State/INL establishes procedures to ensure that monitoring officials for rule of law projects develop monitoring plans that identify project goals and objectives, and address risks. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that State/INL establishes procedures to ensure that monitoring officials for rule of law projects assess and approve monitoring reports from implementing partners. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The USAID Administrator should enhance procedures to ensure that monitoring officials for rule of law projects assess and approve monitoring reports from implementing partners. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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