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affecting USAID’s DRG programs, weaknesses in the Agency’s DRG acquisition and assistance award process and an outdated policy could unintentionally expose USAID to bias.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.