Global food security is an urgent problem, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Feed the Future, a U.S. government global food security initiative led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, aims to reduce global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.
USAID and its 11 federal partner agencies collect data to monitor how Feed the Future is working. But they don't have performance goals to analyze how the initiative is achieving its overall strategic mission.
We recommended that USAID and its partner agencies improve how they assess and report on the Feed the Future initiative by addressing this issue and others.
Participants in a Feed the Future technical assistance program inspect cacao pods in San Martin, Peru.
What GAO Found
Feed the Future (FTF), a U.S. government–wide global food security initiative coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), collects data to monitor how FTF projects promote agriculture, resilience, and nutrition (see photos). However, USAID and its FTF partner agencies are limited in their ability to use performance data to assess the initiative's progress because they have not set FTF-wide performance goals and few FTF indicators fully meet two key attributes of successful performance indicators. Specifically, only three of 40 performance indicators both (1) were clearly linked to the initiative's overarching goal and (2) had measurable targets. FTF has targets for its overarching goal of reducing poverty and child stunting; however, the FTF agencies cannot determine how the results of FTF's projects contribute to this overarching goal. USAID officials said it is difficult to set FTF-wide performance goals and targets because of the initiative's breadth. However, prior GAO work provides strategies to help the agencies conduct meaningful FTF-wide performance monitoring.
Examples of Feed the Future's Agriculture, Resilience, and Nutrition Projects
USAID'S 2017–2020 public reports on FTF include some information on FTF's projects, but contain unclear and unsupported statements on its progress. USAID followed two of four leading practices on performance reporting by including baseline or trend data and discussing data limitations in the FTF reports. However, the reports did not describe how the performance data align with and can be used to assess progress toward FTF's objectives—another leading practice. Further, the reports did not outline performance targets so readers could compare the performance data against these targets, also a leading practice. Lastly, although the reports stated that FTF has led to estimated decreases in poverty and stunting, FTF data do not support these statements on FTF's impact. As a result, FTF's public reports do not communicate a clear picture of the initiative's progress toward achieving its objectives.
As required by law, USAID developed a process to assess countries' potential to graduate from being an FTF target country, but USAID has not fully followed this process. USAID developed annual scorecards to assess the countries; however, due to a bureau restructuring and the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has not shared the 2019 or 2020 scorecards with its missions or the FTF partner agencies. USAID also has not worked with these entities to complete required annual reviews of the graduation assessment process itself. As a result, USAID has limited the partners' engagement in, and the usefulness of, this process.
Why GAO Did This Study
The United Nations reported that nearly 690 million people in the world were undernourished as of 2019, and estimated that food insecurity could worsen due to COVID-19. In response to the Global Food Security Act of 2016, FTF agencies monitor and report the progress of their global food security assistance and developed a process to graduate FTF target countries from the initiative.
GAO was asked to review U.S. global food security assistance. This report evaluates, among other things, USAID's monitoring and public reporting of FTF's progress and assessment of countries' potential to graduate from FTF. GAO reviewed FTF documents and data, and interviewed representatives of USAID, FTF partner agencies, and other stakeholders, including implementing partners from four sample countries selected based on factors such as geographic diversity and amount of food security funding.
GAO is making eight recommendations that USAID work with the FTF partner agencies to improve how they assess and report on FTF performance, including establishing performance goals, ensuring that performance indicators follow leading practices, improving the clarity of public progress reports, sharing annual graduation scorecards, and completing required reviews of the graduation assessment process. USAID generally agreed with all eight recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID, in consultation with FTF partner agencies, should establish quantifiable and measurable performance goals for the initiative to assess progress toward FTF's strategic objectives and overarching goal. (Recommendation 1)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID, in consultation with FTF partner agencies, should (1) evaluate and revise, as necessary, which indicators should be required as applicable as performance indicators across the initiative to include only those that are used for FTF-wide performance monitoring; and (2) clearly and specifically explain the linkage of those FTF-wide indicators to the initiative's performance goals and strategic objectives. (Recommendation 2)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID, in consultation with FTF partner agencies, should establish FTF-wide targets for FTF-wide performance indicators required as applicable across the initiative. (Recommendation 3)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID should describe in the Progress Snapshot and Strategy Implementation reports how performance data included in those reports align with and can be used to assess progress toward FTF's performance goals and strategic objectives. (Recommendation 4)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID should, in the Progress Snapshot and Strategy Implementation reports, (1) include performance targets for all performance indicators included in the reports so these data can be used to meaningfully demonstrate progress or performance gaps, and (2) discuss planned actions for unmet performance targets. (Recommendation 5)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID should clearly state in the Progress Snapshot and Strategy Implementation reports the limitations of FTF impact indicator data, such as data on poverty and stunting. (Recommendation 6)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID should develop and implement a process through which USAID regularly shares its annual graduation scorecard assessments with its target country missions and the FTF partner agencies. (Recommendation 7)|
|United States Agency for International Development||The Administrator of USAID, in consultation with USAID missions in FTF target countries and FTF partner agencies, should review the graduation scorecard assessment process with the frequency that the FTF graduation policy outlines to ensure that the indicators included and the assessment process used provide valid information for assessing target countries' readiness to graduate, and that there is a common understanding about what graduation from the initiative will mean. (Recommendation 8)|