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Foreign Assistance: Briefing on U.S. International Water-Related Assistance

GAO-14-683R Published: Jul 24, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2014.
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What GAO Found

In summary, GAO found the following regarding U.S. agency funding, roles, staffing, and coordination related to international water-related assistance:

Funding. U.S. agencies reported providing billions of dollars in international water-related assistance in fiscal years 2009 through 2013. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) reported providing most of about $4 billion in grants and contracts; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States reported providing about $1 billion in insurance and loans. USAID and MCC provided a greater share of their water-related funding in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region. USAID allocated the largest share of its funding during this period to other countries that it has identified, based on their strategic importance to the United States, as priority countries for fiscal year 2014. The Department of State (State) and USAID reported meeting congressional spending requirements related to water and sanitation.

Agency roles. Of the 27 agencies that we surveyed, 25 reported conducting at least one of the following activities related to international water-related assistance: providing technical assistance, gathering and sharing information, participating in international policy and relations, and implementing and overseeing projects. U.S. agencies reported providing assistance to more than 150 countries, with 28 of these countries each receiving assistance from 6 or more agencies.

Staffing. Eleven agencies involved in international water-related assistance reported a combined total of 154 staff working primarily on such assistance. In addition, 25 agencies reported staff who made key contributions (i.e., staff who regularly spent less than 50 percent of their time or worked on short-term assignments) in this area. Staff roles varied, ranging from project management, to civil and environmental engineering, to hydrology and epidemiology.

Coordination. U.S. agencies reported using various mechanisms--formal interagency agreements, conferences, phone calls, and e-mail--to facilitate coordination and collaboration on international water-related assistance. State convenes monthly interagency water working group meetings to help coordinate U.S. international water-related assistance. In addition, State and USAID established senior coordinator positions to support coordination in their own agencies and with other U.S. government partners for water-related assistance.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO was asked to review the U.S. government's international water-related assistance. In this report--the first of two reports responding to the congressional request--GAO presents initial observations regarding (1) U.S. agencies' funding for international water-related assistance and the extent to which U.S. agencies complied with congressional spending requirements, (2) roles and responsibilities of U.S. agencies providing this assistance, (3) U.S. agencies' staffing to provide this assistance, and (4) coordination and collaboration among U.S. agencies on international water-related assistance. To conduct this work, GAO obtained data and documentation about water-related efforts and conducted interviews with officials from State, USAID, and MCC. Additionally, GAO administered a questionnaire to 27 U.S. agencies and subagencies (collectively, "agencies") to collect high-level information on funding, agency roles, staffing, and coordination. After conducting follow-up with agencies to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the data collected, GAO determined that these data were sufficiently reliable to present approximate funding and staffing levels. In addition, after performing steps such as interviewing knowledgeable officials and obtaining and reviewing additional documentation for funding and staff data from State, USAID, and MCC, GAO determined that these data were sufficiently reliable to present exact funding and staffing amounts. Several agencies, including State and USAID, provided technical comments about a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

For more information, contact David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or

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