Contractor Use for Disaster and Stabilization Responses: USAID Is Constrained by Funding Structure but Better Data Collection Could Improve Workforce Planning

Evaluation
Report Number
E-000-22-002-M

The workforces of the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) have supported the world in emergencies and during political instability through a combined use of direct hire staff and contractors, increasingly relying on the latter over time. USAID has recognized that emergency responses are becoming increasingly prolonged. For example, USAID’s response to Liberia’s Ebola crisis in 2014 lasted less than two years, whereas the crises in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan have been ongoing since 2013.

Such protracted crises require staff on the ground not just for months, but years. However, contracting mechanisms are generally short-term in nature and provide staff fewer protections and benefits than those for direct hire employees—which makes the positions harder to fill for the duration of their five-year terms.

Although contractors are less than a third of USAID’s staff, they are the majority at BHA and OTI. The two bureaus are primarily comprised of two types of contractors: personal services contractors (PSC) and institutional support contractors (ISC). While this workforce composition provides some advantages, reliance on contractors also presents a number of challenges.

Our objectives were to (1) assess advantages associated with BHA and OTI’s use of PSCs and ISCs, (2) assess challenges associated with BHA and OTI’s use of PSCs and ISCs, and (3) report on the alternatives that USAID has explored to BHA and OTI’s use of PSCs and ISCs.

Key Findings

Flexible funding allows BHA and OTI to hire contractors and meet the need for short-term surge staff.

  • BHA and OTI have the authority to use program funds to fund PSCs and ISCs and directly control the process for hiring contractors, including technical surge staff for short-term, rapid deployments to meet staffing needs during a crisis.

Challenges include hiring and retaining contractors for long-term mission needs, increased administrative burden, and lack of data for workforce planning

  • BHA and OTI are unable to control elements of contractor safety or privacy, as well as their exclusions from certain benefits, which affect BHA and OTI’s ability to recruit and retain contract staff. 
  • BHA and OTI are using funding flexibility available but the workforce model of using short-term staffing mechanisms places a burden on direct hires allowed by law to take on more government functions than contractors. Additionally, the use of contractors forces the Agency to create and fund parallel hiring and management structures.
  • BHA and OTI also do not systematically capture workforce data, including on administrative costs and human capital metrics, which would allow them to better plan and communicate needs to build a more sustainable workforce for long-term crises.

USAID has proposed various staffing solutions, including greater use of existing direct hire authority, as well as two new noncareer staffing types that are time limited, but provide greater flexibility and benefits.  However, lack of stakeholders’ unity and funding authority have hindered implementation of staffing alternatives.

Recommendations

Recommendation
1

(USAID/M) We recommend that Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that USAID/M, in coordination with BHA and OTI, take the following actions: Identify, track, and publicly report all costs associated with the PSC and ISC mechanisms, fully accounting for program funding used for administrative, management, and support expenses.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Recommendation
2

(HCTM) We recommend that Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that HCTM, in consultation with BHA and OTI: Incorporate PSC and ISC staffing mechanisms into its workforce planning, including through tracking relevant direct hire metrics, such as the number of employees and their pay levels and responsibilities.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Recommendation
3

(HCTM) We recommend that the Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that HCTM, in coordination with BHA, OTI, and other stakeholders: Conduct a workforce assessment and develop a comprehensive plan with options and actionable steps for how to create a sustainable humanitarian and stabilization workforce.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Recommendation
4

(USAID/DEIA) We recommend that the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility, in consultation with M/OAA: Create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy for its contractor workforce, including reviewing its data on PSC and ISC opportunities. This includes identifying whether there are any potential barriers to full and equal participation to its PSC and ISC staffing pathways and whether there are opportunities to build on diversity efforts in the ISC procurement process.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Recommendation
5

USAID/M) We recommend that Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that M/OAA take the following actions: Provide guidance to PSCs on how to contact Dun & Bradstreet to remove their information from its website, now that they are no longer required to maintain a DUNS profile to be in good standing.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Recommendation
6

(USAID/M) We recommend that the Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that M/OAA take the following actions: Assess the options for consistent safety standards and procedures for ISCs in future contracts and implement identified options as appropriate.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0
Close Date
Recommendation
7

(USAID/M) We recommend that the Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources oversee that M/OAA take the following actions: Issue clear guidance on travel safety standards and privileges for PSCs as they relate to Chief of Mission authority.

Questioned Cost
0
Funds for Better Use
0