WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2015 - A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for failing to track or evaluate the effectiveness of $2.1 billion worth of conditional food aid activities.
USAID’s “food-for-asset” projects help aid recipients meet their immediate food needs in exchange for participating in development activities – such as constructing roads or irrigation systems – that the agency says contribute to long-term food security. GAO found that in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, 87 percent of the monies allocated by Congress through Title II of the Food for Peace Act specifically for projects that included conditional food aid components were not tracked by USAID.
The GAO report said that because USAID does not regularly require or collect implementation data on Title II projects, the agency cannot systematically measure the performance of food-for-assets activities across all Title II development projects or determine their effectiveness in achieving short-term or longer-term development goals.
To complete the audit, GAO waited several months for USAID to gather and revise data on how many food-for-asset projects were implemented in 2013-14, how many people benefited from them, and how much money and food USAID contributed.
The report was requested by Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee that oversees USDA and related agencies. Their concern, as indicated in the document, was that addressing both short- and long-term food security needs through food-for-asset projects might actually compromise the agency’s ability to achieve either goal.
Farr said in a statement that the “report highlights ways USAID can continue improving oversight of its food aid programs, including many changes the agency has already begun implementing.”
“Congress should work with USAID to help bring about these changes in a way that doesn’t delay the goal of getting food to countries in need,” Farr said, because “we should always err on the side of feeding more hungry people.”
The GAO recommended that USAID establish a way of identifying Title II programs that include conditional food activities and to assess the effectiveness of those programs. USAID agreed with the office’s suggestions, but took issue with the way USAID’s program evaluation was characterized.
“USAID strongly disagrees with the report’s assertion that it does not reliably oversee or monitor programs that use conditional food transfers,” the agency said in its response to the audit. USAID also argued that the $2.1 billion figure cited in the report as total funding for Title II conditional food aid projects was “misleading,” as “only a small fraction of the resources contributed to (Title II) operations were used for conditional activities” as opposed to unconditional food aid.
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