DOD Task Force For Business and Stability Operations: Actions Needed to Establish Project Management Guidelines and Enhance Information Sharing

GAO-11-715 Published: Jul 29, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2011.
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The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and others are involved in economic development activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. In June 2006, DOD established the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (Task Force) to support its related efforts. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2011 required that DOD, State, and USAID jointly develop a plan to transition Task Force activities to State, with a focus on potentially transitioning activities to USAID. Under the authority of the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct work on his own initiative and with additional congressional direction, GAO identified (1) factors to consider in planning any transition of Task Force activities and (2) the extent to which the Task Force established guidance to manage its activities and has shared information with other federal agencies. GAO analyzed documents and interviewed multiple agency officials in Washington, D.C., Iraq, and Afghanistan.

As of June 2011, DOD, State, and USAID officials were discussing options for transitioning Task Force activities and preparing a response to the fiscal year 2011 NDAA requirements. Based on interviews with senior officials and a review of available data, GAO identified five factors to consider in planning for any transition of Task Force activities to USAID, which generally relate to how these agencies conduct their respective activities. First, although both the Task Force and USAID work to promote economic development, they generally take different approaches. The Task Force is a small, flat, flexible organization that generally conducts short-term initiatives, while USAID is a large agency that conducts short- and long-term projects. USAID officials noted that in addition to other activities, it focuses on efforts to improve the environment for investments whereas the Task Force focuses on brokering specific investment deals. Second, as part of DOD, Task Force employees are not subject to the same movement restrictions as USAID employees and have greater flexibility to visit project sites and access to military assets. Third, funding and staffing plans would need to be developed. For example, USAID's fiscal year 2011 budget and 2012 budget request did not take into account any needs to support Task Force activities. Fourth, while both agencies facilitate private sector investment, the nature and focus of their interactions with investors differ. For example, the Task Force actively identifies potential U.S. and non-U.S. investors and arranges meetings and provides logistical support for them, whereas USAID typically sponsors conferences to provide opportunities for prospective investors to share information. Given these differences, State and USAID officials agreed that the same type of private investment activities conducted by the Task Force may not continue at USAID. Last, the timing of a transition and impact on U.S. objectives will need to be considered. DOD, State, and USAID officials noted that because Task Force activities are important to supporting the U.S. goal of attracting investors, a transition in the near term may negatively impact these efforts. While DOD and the Task Force have provided high-level direction for Task Force activities, the Task Force has not developed written project management guidance to be used by its personnel in managing Task Force projects. Such guidance could include important elements, such as project selection criteria, requirements to establish metrics, and monitoring and evaluation processes. As a result, the Task Force does not have the framework needed to ensure a standard operating approach, accountability, and consistent project management. The Task Force has generally focused its information-sharing efforts on senior officials in Afghanistan whereas efforts at the project management level have been more ad hoc. Mechanisms such as working groups exist for agencies involved in development activities to share information. However, the Task Force does not routinely participate, and DOD, State, and USAID have not identified how best to integrate the Task Force to share information on its activities. As a result, the U.S. government may not be positioned to fully leverage and coordinate its respective capabilities and efforts in support of achieving U.S. goals. GAO recommends that the Task Force develop written project management guidance and that DOD, State, and USAID develop an approach to integrate the Task Force into information-sharing mechanisms. DOD partially concurred with the first recommendation. The three agencies generally concurred with the second.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To ensure effective project management, oversight, and accountability, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Task Force to develop written guidance that documents, as appropriate, its management processes and practices, including elements such as criteria for project selection, requirements for establishing metrics and project documentation, and project monitoring and evaluation processes.
Closed – Implemented
In response to our recommendation the Task Force implemented a Project Management Operating Model in January 2012. The guidance establishes a project proposal vetting process and a project board which meets monthly to reviews project proposals and makes recommendations to the Task Force director. The guidance also establishes monitoring and evaluation procedures by requiring project metrics that track cost, status, milestones, and risks and project metrics and by holding quarterly program reviews. Task Force officials stated that this operating model will allow them to more effectively and efficiently execute programs while ensuring accountability. We believe that DOD?s actions in finalizing the agreement meet the intent of our recommendation.
Department of Defense To improve information sharing among the Task Force and other federal agencies involved with stabilization and economic development efforts in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID should determine the most appropriate mechanism for integrating Task Force participation. Such mechanisms could include formalizing the process previously used to obtain State concurrence on Task Force projects, participating in appropriate working groups in Afghanistan, and/or including Task Force project and activity information in existing databases.
Closed – Implemented
In response to our recommendation, Congress included language in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 section 1534 which required the concurrence of the Secretary of State on Task Force projects. On February 7, 2012, DOD and the Task Force formally requested concurrence for its fiscal year 2012 plan. The State Department's response provided concurrence for the Task Force's proposed projects. In addition, DOD, the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) agreed to setup a joint planning process, including a quarterly review, to facilitate implementation of Task Force programs. An initial steering conference was held on January 17, 2012, and officials from State, USAID, and DOD met to provide policy guidance for Task Force efforts and to ensure that Task Force activities complement other U.S. government civilian and military activities. Subsequent coordination meetings will be held quarterly by the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs (CDDEA) in the U.S. Embassy-Kabul. USAID and DOD representatives in Kabul will attend these review board meetings to receive updates on Task Force activities, ensure coordination between civilian and military programs, and enhance the complementary nature of such activities. According to the Deputy Director of the CDDEA, the first review occurred on March 3, 2012 and during this meeting several issues regarding a gem cutting training initiative and agricultural plans were de-conflicted. Moreover, the Task Force also participates in the bi-weekly meetings of the Economic and Infrastructure Working Group, which include representatives from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce, the Export Import Bank, as well as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We believe that the actions taken by DOD and State meet the intent of our recommendation.

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