GAO Report Explores Delays in US Infrastructure Reconstruction Projects in Haiti

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah visits a community severely affected by the earthquake to check on relief and recovery projects in Haiti. Photo by: USAID / CC BY-NC-ND

Staffing issues and delays in awarding contracts have significantly set back the planning and implementation of U.S.-funded infrastructure reconstruction activities in Haiti, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have allocated some $142 million for infrastructure construction activities in Haiti as of Sept. 30, according to a GAO report released Nov. 16. But only 12 percent, or $48.4 million, of this amount has been obligated or awarded in contracts and only less than 1 percent, or some $3.1 million, has been expended, the report says.

Several factors have contributed to the USAID and State Department’s delays in obligating and spending the allocated funds, the report notes. One is the USAID’s difficulty in staffing its Haiti mission following the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.

The report says USAID had difficulty replacing the Foreign Service officers (U.S. direct-hire staff) that left the Haiti mission in the aftermath of the earthquake, which included key personnel such as contracting officers and engineers. This forced the mission to rely heavily on temporary staff and stretch the portfolio of remaining full-time staff, the report notes.

GAO urges USAID to put in place measures to hire sufficient staff for its Haiti mission in order to effectively implement reconstruction activities, supported by an increase in U.S. funding.

In response, USAID said it has initiatives in place that, if continued, are expected to address this staffing problem.

The report also identifies factors that are outside the control of USAID and the State Department: the Haitian government’s long-standing institutional and economic weaknesses.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.