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Afghanistan Reconstruction: Progress Made in Constructing Roads, but Assessments for Determining Impact and a Sustainable Maintenance Program Are Needed

GAO-08-689 Published: Jul 08, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 08, 2008.
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The Afghan government, the United States, and other donors consider road reconstruction a top development priority for Afghanistan. Almost 20 percent of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) $5.9 billion in assistance to Afghanistan has been for roads. The Department of Defense (Defense) has committed about $560 million for roads, of which Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds account for over half. GAO examined (1) the status of road reconstruction and challenges affecting project implementation, (2) U.S. agencies' efforts to evaluate the impact of road projects, and (3) efforts to develop a sustainable road maintenance program. GAO reviewed U.S. and Afghan governments' planning, evaluation, and funding documents and interviewed relevant stakeholders in Afghanistan.

The United States and other donors have completed construction of several regional and national highways since 2002, but the status of other roads is uncertain and various challenges have delayed construction. The Afghan government and international donors planned to complete the high-priority regional highways by the end of 2008, and as of February 2008, about 60 percent of these roads were built. USAID has completed its portion, but completion of other portions is not expected until late 2009. Donors have committed to construct over 30 percent of national highways, which connect provincial capitals to the regional highways, and only USAID has completed portions of these highways. Detailed information on the status of provincial and rural roads is lacking. Although Defense reported committing CERP funds for 1,600 kilometers of roads, data on the roads were incomplete and Defense has not reported information on these roads to USAID, as required. Poor security, project implementer limitations, and starting construction with limited planning have contributed to project delays and cost increases. U.S. agencies have not conducted sound impact evaluations to determine the degree to which projects achieved the objective of economic development. Limitations of USAID's funding, data collection, and frameworks to assess results have impeded its ability to evaluate project impact. Defense has not conducted any impact evaluations and lacks clear guidance on project evaluation. However, agency officials have noted some anecdotal examples of road construction impact, such as reduced travel times and increased commerce. Moreover, no other donor has performed impact evaluations. A sustainable road maintenance program has not been established, although it is a goal of the Afghan government and international donors. The Afghan government's support of this goal has been limited due to factors such as a lack of resources and a fragmented institutional organization. As a result, international donors have agreed to temporarily fund road maintenance to protect their investments. While USAID plans to maintain about 1,500 kilometers of roads it built, it did not meet its 2007 target to maintain 100 kilometers of reconstructed roads.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
U.S. Agency for International Development To improve evaluation as well as efficiency and effectiveness of USAID funded road reconstruction projects, the Administrator of USAID should improve the results framework to ensure that it is based on expected benefits from a cost-benefit analysis with clearly stated goals, indicators, and targets.
Closed – Implemented
In response to the GAO recommendation, USAID began to ensure that performance monitoring plans include indicators of impact. For example, in its performance monitoring plans, one revised in March 2009 and one covering 2010-2015, USAID included a results framework that includes clearly stated goals and indicators that help track progress toward the goals. USAID also sets annual targets to establish expected benefits and to compare against actual results. USAID also said they perform feasibility studies and have made efforts to increase staff and strengthen its estimation and analysis of project costs. In September 2010, a USAID contractor completed a cost-benefit analysis that developed and implemented an analysis framework that attempted to quantify the expected benefits of the Strategic Provincial Roads in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan program, but also to "provide a replicable evaluation methodology that can be adopted and applied to other, comparable, road developments in Afghanistan."
U.S. Agency for International Development To improve evaluation as well as efficiency and effectiveness of USAID funded road reconstruction projects, the Administrator of USAID should, in coordination with other donors, consider building impact evaluations into project design and perform such evaluations after project implementation.
Closed – Implemented
In response to the GAO recommendation, USAID took a number of actions, including the completion of several impact assessments of completed road projects. After GAO issued this recommendation, USAID completed socio-economic impact assessments for the Kabul-Kandahar Road, Kandahar-Herat Road, Keshim-Fayzabad Road, and its Provincial and District Roads program. In addition, USAID completed a socio-economic baseline study for its Bamyan-Dushi Road. According to a cost-benefit analysis released by USAID in September 2010, USAID?s contractor developed a "replicable evaluation methodology that can be adopted and applied to other, comparable, road developments in Afghanistan."
Department of Defense To ensure the evaluation of CERP-funded roads, the Secretary of Defense should require impact evaluations of these projects where applicable.
Closed – Implemented
DoD took steps just prior to our report issuance to implement this recommendation by including a requirement for project evaluation upon updating its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) guidance. Specifically, the June 2008 CERP-guidance required project proposals to include performance metrics and indicators; these indicators were to be used as part of the project close-out process for evaluating projects upon completion.
U.S. Agency for International Development Until the Afghan government is able to establish a road maintenance program, the Administrator of USAID should work with the Afghan government to take steps to address urgent maintenance needs, such as formulating and enforcing vehicle weight standards, while continuing to take steps to address long-term maintenance needs, such as by developing a maintenance implementation plan.
Closed – Implemented
To demonstrate USAID's continued work with the Afghan government in addressing maintenance needs, USAID met with Afghan ministry officials in 2010 to discuss, for example, USAID and Afghan government joint efforts to institutionalize and fund road maintenance. USAID and Afghan officials reviewed the action plan for creating a national road authority and road fund and the timing of activities was clarified. USAID committed to provide technical legal assistance to help establish them. USAID and Afghan officials also discussed site tours for senior Afghan government officials to see how maintenance was being successfully implemented by Afghan contractors. These meetings follow other steps USAID has taken to implement our recommendation. For example, USAID helped establish a Road Maintenance Unit (RMU). According to USAID, consultants work with Ministry counterparts at the RMU to plan and implement performance-based road maintenance contracts. USAID said about 48 provincial staff from the Ministry of Public Works were involved in monitoring the road conditions and field related works and received two days of training each month on topics such as performance-based contracting, procurement procedures, road maintenance, development of a multi-year investment plan, and cost estimation. USAID said they have discussed other issues with Afghan government officials, including a gas tax, vehicle licensing, and truck weigh station fees as possible revenue streams to fund road maintenance.
U.S. Agency for International Development Until the Afghan government is able to establish a road maintenance program, the Administrator of USAID should require that future agreements for road reconstruction projects include plans detailing options for funding road maintenance.
Closed – Implemented
In April 2012, USAID reported that no new road construction contracts had been awarded since the recommendations of GAO's audit were made final, because USAID's development focus in Afghanistan has changed. However, USAID has shown an effort to write road maintenance into contracts to protect its investments in roads. In addition to a $10 million task order to develop a road maintenance program, USAID awarded a 90-day contract on March 11, 2012 to specifically address maintenance issues on the road from Gardez to Khost.
Department of Defense To ensure that Defense and USAID officials have adequate information to make effective future project management decisions, the Secretary of Defense should require that data for Defense's CERP-funded road projects be reported for inclusion in USAID's database, as required by CERP guidance.
Closed – Implemented
DoD concurred with GAO's recommendation and issued revised guidance that required the DoD officials to ensure that a project is documented in all required databases at completion.

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Construction costsCost overrunsData collectionData integrityFederal aid for highwaysFederal aid to foreign countriesFederal fundsForeign aid programsForeign economic assistanceForeign financial assistanceForeign governmentsFunds managementHighway engineeringHighway planningInternational agreementsInternational relationsInternational roadsProgram evaluationProgram managementRoad constructionRoad repairsSchedule slippagesStrategic planningBenefit-cost trackingProgram implementation