GAO recommends improved terrorist screening for USAID program

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, April 30, 2015- The Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program delivered through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should have stronger screening for volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists, according a report from the Government Accountability Office.

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The F2F program is implemented through USAID partners under 5-year cooperative agreements. USAID provides overall direction, but relies on partners to execute program activities.

First authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill, the F2F program leverages U.S. agricultural expertise by sending volunteers on short-term assignments to provide technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing and middle-income countries. During fiscal years 2009 through 2013, F2F funded almost 3,000 volunteer assignments and obligated an average of $11.5 million annually. In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress mandated that GAO conduct a review of the F2F program.

The partners follow consistent practices to implement volunteer assignments, but they have inconsistent practices for screening volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists, GAO said.

Although all partners develop a scope of work for each assignment, interview candidates, and assess the volunteer's performance, only two partners screen candidates against the terrorist watch lists as expected by USAID.

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The GAO report also said the partners have no way to systematically report negative volunteer assessments to USAID or each other, even though 41 percent of volunteers in the last program cycle were repeat volunteers. “Without conducting required checks and providing information on prior negative assessments, partners risk selecting volunteers who could undermine F2F's goals and reputation,” the report stated.

Overall, GAO recommended that USAID: ensure F2F partners screen volunteer candidates against terrorist watch lists; develop guidance on the other types of background checks implementing partners should perform; ensure that implementing partners systematically share negative volunteer assessment information; and monitor the extent to which the objectives and activities in the scopes of work are accomplished. USAID concurred with GAO's recommendations.

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