The U.S. Agency for International Development does not have the ability to implement a new acquisition and assistance workforce strategy because it lacks up-to-date information on staff, including information on the competence of its overseas staff, according to the Government Accountability Office.
USAID's acquisition and assistance workforce is responsible for managing all contracts, grants and cooperative agreements given by the agency. But according to Thomas Melito, GAO's director of international affairs and trade, USAID has little idea about what this workforce is capable of, and how it operates both at home and overseas.
"GAO found significant discrepancies between these offices' data sets and officials acknowledged that their [acquisition and assistance] staff level data are neither reliable nor up-to-date," Melito told a House subcommittee on government management on April 28. "Also, USAID has not collected comprehensive competency information on its overseas A&A specialists."
Melito's comments are the latest in a series of stinging assessments about the way USAID conducts business. Criticism has come not only from the GAO, which functions as the government's internal watchdog, but from Washington's nonprofit and academic community.
Legislation introduced on Capitol Hill this week called for a national development strategy and better oversight of development initiatives, but did not address any of the problems brought up by GAO.
Experts testifying at the hearing said increased oversight of contracting and grant-making staff was imperative for USAID to fulfill its overseas mission. They also said the addition of new staff, as planned by the Obama administration, was pointless without improved training and oversight.
"After welcoming the surge of staff for USAID recently, we are hugely concerned that these junior staff must take on roles and responsibilities well beyond their level of training and experience - compounding the problems faced by the sector in implementing development," said Michael Walsh, director of programs at Inside NGO. "Only a few years ago, over 50 percent of the foreign service officers were eligible for retirement. Now, over 50 percent have been with the agency less than five years. Who will provide on-the-job training, mentoring and supervision necessary to prepare a workforce capable of accomplishing its demanding mission?"
George Ingram, vice president of procurement at AED, said that this oversight needs to extend to the way USAID spends money.
"USAID needs to have a direct reporting relationship to [the Office of Management and Budget]," he said, "but also needs to closely coordinate its budget with the Department of State, which should have the opportunity to provide input into the development budget and should have access to the proposed development budget as that is important information in building the diplomatic/security budget."