GAO: State and USAID Should Improve Their Monitoring of International Counter-Trafficking Projects

Human trafficking is a pervasive problem throughout the world. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Trafficking in Persons involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Payments received by human trafficking operations are increasingly used to fund terrorism and organized crime.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has investigated the programs conducted by specific agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Labor (DOL), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), that address trafficking in persons. The investigation culminated in a report, published December 4, which identifies the recent projects in international counter-trafficking in persons that key U.S. agencies have awarded to implementing partners; and, for selected projects, assesses the extent to which key agencies have documented their monitoring activities and ensured the reliability of project performance information.

GAO reviewed State, DOL, and USAID project documents and interviewed agency officials. GAO reviewed monitoring documents for 54 of the 57 projects that were active from the beginning of fiscal year 2016 through the end of fiscal year 2017. Of these 54 projects, GAO selected a nongeneralizable sample of 5 projects, based primarily on largest total award amounts, for review of the reliability of project performance information.

State, DOL and USAID managed 120 international counter-trafficking in person projects during fiscal year 2017.

GAO reviewed a selection of 54 counter-trafficking projects (37 State, 3 DOL, and 14 USAID), and found that DOL and USAID had fully documented their monitoring activities, while State had not. All three agencies used similar tools to monitor the performance of their projects, such as monitoring plans, performance indicators and targets, progress reports, and site visits. GAO found, however, that State did not fully document its monitoring activities for 16 of its 37 projects (43 percent). GAO found that State did not have the monitoring plans or complete progress reports for one-third of its projects and often lacked targets for performance indicators in its final progress reports. State officials said they had not required targets for each performance indicator for the projects GAO reviewed, or had not set targets due to limited resources in prior years. State has taken steps to improve its monitoring efforts, but it is uncertain whether performance targets will be regularly recorded. Without full documentation of monitoring activities and established performance targets, State has limited ability to assess project performance, including project efficiency or effectiveness.

GAO reviewed the reliability of project performance information for 5 of the 54 counter-trafficking projects (2 State, 1 DOL, and 2 USAID) and found that State and USAID used inconsistent and incomplete performance information, while DOL used consistent and complete information. For example, some quarterly indicator results in State and USAID progress reports were inconsistent with annual total results, and narrative explanations for significant deviations from performance targets were sometimes not present in quarterly reports. According to agency officials, performance information from these projects is regularly used not only for direct project oversight but also for internal and external reporting, program decisions, and lessons learned. GAO found that State’s and USAID’s processes lack sufficient controls to ensure the reliability of project performance information, but did not find inadequate controls in DOL’s process. For example, neither State nor USAID consistently used automated checks on indicator results to ensure consistency and completeness of performance indicator result calculations. In contrast, DOL used automated checks as part of its process. Without implementing controls to ensure that performance information is consistent and complete, State and USAID officials cannot fully or accurately understand what projects are, or are not, achieving, and how their efforts might be improved.

GAO has made several recommendations to State, including establishing of targets for each performance indicator, and maintaining documentation of all required monitoring activities including monitoring plans, progress reports, and performance targets. In addition, GAO says the Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) establishes additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of performance information that the TIP Office uses to monitor counter-trafficking in persons projects. Further, the Director of the TIP Office should establish a process to review and update performance indicators, with the participation of implementing partners, to ensure that project monitoring remains efficient and effective.

State is currently developing SAMS-D, a system that officials expect to standardize entry of information from common performance indicators and logic models, according to State officials. These officials stated that if SAMS-D is deployed, State TIP Office could find it easier to analyze and revise logic models that implementing partners submit, as well as examine performance indicator results over time, since standardized data would be available in a centralized location.

According to State officials, SAMS-D could be programmed with automatic checks or alerts under conditions defined by the TIP Office and the database programmer. For example, the system could require that fields be filled out in particular formats or provide an alert if performance under a certain indicator has significantly deviated from prior quarters or the indicator’s target. State TIP Office officials said they were uncertain whether SAMS-D would become operational in 2019, as currently planned. According to officials, State TIP Office has participated in planning and pilot activities for SAMS-D, including testing monitoring tools with implementing partners. According to these officials, additional work is needed to develop rules and controls necessary to operationalize SAMS-D to meet the TIP Office’s particular needs and ensure improved data. Another challenge to implementation of SAMS-D, according to these officials, is that some implementing partners are unable to maintain consistent internet connections necessary to upload information, impeding full roll-out of the system, and an alternative upload mechanism does not yet exist.

GAO also calls for USAID to establish additional controls to improve the consistency and completeness of performance information that USAID uses to monitor counter-trafficking in persons projects.

State and USAID concur with these recommendations.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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