Additional Actions Are Needed To Improve USAID's Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Programs

Audit Report
Report Number
8-000-20-001-P

In response to a request from the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we conducted this audit to provide information on the mechanisms USAID uses to minimize bias and favoritism in its democracy, human rights, and governance programs, with a focus on Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East. These programs aim to promote basic DRG goals and objectives such as fair and open elections, human rights, and good and transparent governments.

To mitigate the risk of bias in its DRG programs, the Agency has instituted controls including development policies and program design, award, and implementation processes. While we did not identify any instances of partisanship affecting USAID’s DRG programs, weaknesses in the Agency’s DRG acquisition and assistance award process and an outdated policy could unintentionally expose USAID to bias.

We identified several factors that may influence DRG program design and implementation, and mechanisms the Agency uses to help ensure that Agency personnel take into account these factors when designing and implementing DRG programs. However, mission DRG staff reported a need for increased access and awareness to DRG resources—particularly expertise residing in the DRG Center in USAID headquarters—and leadership vacancies have resulted in gaps in some missions’ access to DRG expertise and representation.

USAID and State Department coordination on planned and ongoing DRG programs primarily occurs in-country. Examples included USAID DRG officials coordinating with their State colleagues to obtain feedback on program design and conduct joint site visits to program activities; including State officials on award selection committees; and establishing DRG work groups. However, not all missions have established DRG work groups or sustained those that have been established. Without active DRG work groups, the agencies may miss opportunities for strengthening DRG coordination in the field and sharing best practices.

Finally, USAID’s Program Cycle Operational Policy sets requirements for monitoring and measuring the progress of all Agency activities, including DRG programs, and the Agency Evaluation Policy requires operating units to perform evaluations of their programs. However, the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance—which is charged with promoting DRG learning—has been slow to generate and disseminate knowledge through impact evaluations of DRG programs in Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East.

We made, and the Agency agreed with, six recommendations to improve USAID’s policies and processes to further minimize the risk of bias in the Agency’s DRG programs.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1

Review and revise as appropriate its policies and procedures regarding host-country official participation on Agency technical evaluation and merit review selection committees to ensure this participation does not compromise the integrity of the democracy, human rights, and governance acquisition and assistance award process.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0
Recommendation 2

In coordination with the Office of Acquisition and Assistance, conduct a review to determine whether opportunities exist to work with a broader range of implementers providing political party assistance. This review should consider funding trends, insights, and suggestions from the Agency's democracy, human rights, and governance experts and Federal acquisition and assistance best practices. Based on this review, design and implement any actions needed to ensure integrity in USAID's democracy, human rights, and governance programs.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0
Recommendation 3

In coordination with the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning, conduct an implementation assessment or technical content review of the Agency's Political Party Assistance Policy, in compliance with ADS chapter 200 requirements. This assessment or review should consider the length of policy waivers and determining eligibility of political parties that seek to undermine U.S. national security priorities to receive USAID assistance. Based on the assessment or review, revise the policy to ensure waivers and political parties would not compromise the integrity of USAID's democracy, human rights, and governance programs.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0
Recommendation 4

Develop and implement an action plan to review the products and services that the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance provides internal and external stakeholders and make any necessary adjustments to align them to current programmatic areas of focus.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0
Recommendation 5

In coordination with the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management, assess staffing needs and develop and implement a plan to give missions access to expertise and leadership in democracy, human rights, and governance during extended staffing vacancies.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0
Recommendation 6

Develop and issue interagency coordination guidance for USAID staff to promote and strengthen the use of democracy, human rights, and governance work groups in the field as a best practice.

Questioned Cost:
$0
Funds For Better Use:
$0