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International Cash-Based Food Assistance: USAID Has Processes for Initial Project Approval but Needs to Strengthen Award Modification and Financial Oversight

GAO-15-760T Published: Jul 09, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 09, 2015.
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What GAO Found

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awards new cash-based food assistance grants under its Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) through a competitive proposal review or an expedited noncompetitive process; however, USAID lacks formal internal guidance for modifying awards. In its March 2015 review of 22 grant awards, GAO found that USAID made 13 through its competitive process, 7 through an abbreviated noncompetitive review, and 2 under authorities allowing an expedited emergency response. According to USAID, the agency follows a similar process for modification requests. Partners may propose cost or no-cost modifications for a variety of reasons, such as an increase in the number of beneficiaries or changing market conditions affecting food prices. In its review of 13 grant awards that had been modified, GAO found that cost modifications for 8 awards resulted in an increase in funding for the 13 awards from about $91 million to $626 million. According to USAID, procedures for modifying awards have been updated but GAO has yet to verify this information. GAO also found that though USAID requires partners to monitor market conditions—a key factor that may trigger an award modification—it did not provide guidance on when and how to respond to changing market conditions. GAO concluded that, until USAID institutes formal guidance, it cannot hold its staff and implementing partners accountable for taking all necessary steps to justify and document the medication of awards.

Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) Cash and Voucher Awards, Fiscal Years 2010-2014

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USAID relies on implementing partners for financial oversight of EFSP projects but did not require them to conduct comprehensive risk assessments to plan financial oversight activities, and it provided little related procedural guidance to partners and its own staff. For projects in four case study countries reviewed in its March 2015 report, GAO found that neither USAID nor its implementing partners conducted comprehensive risk assessments to identify and mitigate financial vulnerabilities. Additionally, although USAID's partners had generally implemented financial controls over cash and voucher distributions that GAO reviewed, some partners' guidance for financial oversight had weaknesses, such as a lack of information on how to estimate and report losses. In addition, GAO found that USAID had limited guidance on financial control activities and provided no information to aid partners in estimating and reporting losses. As a result, partners may neglect to implement appropriate financial controls in areas that are most vulnerable to fraud, diversion, and misuse of EFSP funding.

Why GAO Did This Study

For over 60 years, the United States has provided assistance to food-insecure countries primarily in the form of food commodities procured in the United States and transported overseas. In recent years, the United States has joined other major donors in increasingly providing food assistance in the form of cash or vouchers. In fiscal year 2014, U.S.-funded cash and voucher projects in 28 countries totaled about $410 million, the majority of which was for the Syria crisis, making the United States the largest single donor of cash-based food assistance.

This testimony summarizes GAO's March 2015 report (GAO-15-328) that (1) reviewed USAID's processes for awarding and modifying cash-based food assistance projects and (2) assessed the extent to which USAID and its implementing partners have implemented financial controls to help ensure appropriate oversight of such projects. GAO analyzed program data and documents for selected projects in Jordan, Kenya, Niger, and Somalia; interviewed relevant officials; and conducted fieldwork in Jordan, Kenya, and Niger.


GAO's March 2015 report included recommendations to strengthen USAID's guidance for staff on approving award modifications and guidance for partners on responding to changing market conditions. GAO also made recommendations to strengthen financial oversight of cash-based food assistance projects by addressing gaps in USAID's guidance on risk assessments and mitigation plans and on financial control activities. USAID concurred with the recommendations.

Full Report

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BeneficiariesFood relief programsInternal controlsInternational food programsInternational relationsMarketingPrices and pricingProgram evaluationRisk assessmentRisk management