East Africa is in the midst of another drought, one of the worst in decades. But the staff of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network saw this coming as early as the summer of 2010: In an alert issued last August, FEWSNET predicted abnormally short rains for the rest of the year could adversely affect pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, which are known to be highly vulnerable to climatic variations such as drought.
With that information on hand, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it started pre-positioning food stocks in the region last year and scaling up lifesaving water and nutrition programs in January 2011.
FEWSNET has been rendering food security forecasts for countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and Central Asia over the last quarter century. It is a collaborative project funded by USAID and is currently implemented by a consortium led by Chemonics International under an indefinite quantity contract.
The FEWSNET contract is just one of the 14 live USAID IQCs managed by the international development consulting giant, as per a listing found on the bilateral aid agency’s website. This is the most held by any USAID contractor and represents nearly a tenth of the total 170 IQCs with completion dates beyond July 2011.
Several other companies manage a significant number of live USAID-funded IQCs: ARD Inc. (10), DAI (9) Abt Associates Inc. (8), Research Triangle Institute (8), and the International Resources Group (7). In all, a total of 75 firms share the USAIDIQC pie.
IQCs normally carry multiyear, multimillion-dollar arrangements that lend themselves to joint ventures and subcontracting opportunities. Chemonics, for instance, partners with the Food Economy Group, Intana, Michigan State University and WebFirst to implement its $100 million FEWS NET IQC.
The use of IQC has been popular with USAID as a convenient, flexible and quick mechanism to deploy expertise in projects. The mood has been changing lately, however, as the Obama administration takes steps to rein in large contracts to increase competition, broaden its partner base and, as the agency puts it, “use U.S. government resources more efficiently and effectively.”
So far, USAID has continued issuing pre-solicitation notices and request for proposals that it expects will result in IQC awards. As of July 12, Devex listed 18 such notices issued since the start of 2011, including one for another five-year IQC worth $200 million for FEWS NET.