State Dept unable to track or report foreign aid funds ‒ watchdog

State Dept unable to track or report foreign aid funds ‒ watchdog
A US government watchdog chastised the State Department for not being able to accurately track the more than $32 billion spent annually on foreign aid. The department will see drastic cuts to its foreign aid budget under Trump’s budget proposals.

A report released by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Friday said the Department of State is not able to “obtain timely and accurate data necessary to provide central oversight of foreign assistance activities and meet statutory and regulatory reporting requirements.”

Congress annually appropriates more than $30 billion to the department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for their efforts to support US policy objectives around the world, including security, public health, humanitarian relief, and nonproliferation.

However, the OIG claims that State has still not developed the ability to properly manage the funds. An OIG inspection of the Cairo Embassy in Egypt found that their data on foreign assistance programs was kept in more than 50 separate documents and systems, preventing the embassy from being able to properly oversee the funds.

“This lack of data hinders Department leadership from strategically managing foreign assistance resources, identifying whether programs are achieving their objectives, and determining how well bureaus and offices implement foreign assistance programs,” the report said.

Without a single system, individual State bureaus and offices have spent millions developing their own IT systems to manage and analyze foreign assistance funds, while many others are still relying on labor-intensive manual data collection.

The report released on Friday was a follow-up to a 2015 report, where the OIG recommended that State develop a solution to address the problems with their foreign assistance tracking and reporting.

After that report, State created a working group known as the Foreign Assistance Data Review (FADR) to improve the department’s systems, however, the OIG found the group was not able to agree on a way to gather the data into a single system effectively, and no one on the team had the authority to engineer a solution.

After spending $1 million over the course of a year, the report concluded that the department failed to address the shortcomings in their systems.

OIG made recommendations to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, suggesting that State should assign a senior-level official to oversee the process of updating the department’s systems. They also recommended that the senior official should develop a plan with “clear milestones and target completion dates to address foreign assistance tracking and reporting requirements.”

The report added: “Because the Department had made such limited progress in building the capacity to centrally track foreign assistance data, OIG strengthened and reissued the recommendation in the original report and made an additional recommendation focused on the need for executive leadership to address this Department-wide management challenge.”

The report comes after a budget proposal from President Donald Trump's administration, which suggests cutting $10.1 billion, or 28 percent, of the funding for State and USAID.