The Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2018

76 JULY-AUGUST 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL compound: inspectors general for USAID and State, the Govern- ment Accountability Office and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Also, Congress understandably wants a level of confidence that USAID knows what is happening on all its projects across Afghanistan, accounts for funds, safeguards investments, tracks results, resolves implementation problems when needed and makes changes to increase impact. In late 2012 and 2013, as the number of American direct-hire employees shrank and provincial and district coalition bases closed, USAID began working on an expanded monitoring pro- gram. This work evolved into a multitiered approach that is now fully operational, though the effort to expand and improve con- tinues. Today, the agency relies on a variety of monitoring actors and data points to gather and analyze monitoring data. Each project manager then triangulates the data to ensure confidence in the reporting, and uses the results to make or recommend programmatic decisions. Continued high-level attention from the Department of State and USAID senior management is needed to ensure that the mul- titiered systemworks bottom-up and top-down, and that deci- sions can be made in real time to change or de-scope programs quickly to maximize impact, adapt to changes and manage risks. In addition, in conjunction with other embassy sections and agencies, USAID has established a robust vetting process for all proposed contracts worth more than $25,000 to a non-U.S. entity in Afghanistan, to ensure that there are no links between poten- tial contractors and known terrorists or insurgents. This program works. FromMay 2011 until May 2017, USAID vetted some 7,883 requests worth close to $4 billion and determined that 347 contracts worth more than $692 million were ineligible, thereby denying support to insurgents and terrorists. Looking Forward USAID will no doubt be asked again to move well beyond its normal comfort zone as part of another U.S. intervention in pursuit of urgent national security objectives. It is vital that USAID officers involved in planning these interven- tions review and take to heart the lessons being learned from Afghanistan. While USAID showed it could success- fully carry out challenging and difficult U.S. policies in Afghanistan (e.g., stabilization, on-budget support and a short-term civilian surge), its efforts carried high costs and high risks. Here are a few things we should keep in mind for all similar efforts going forward: n Do not try to do everything. More staff, including huge civilian surges, does not mean better programs; and more money cannot address political corruption or structural, sys- temic, historical and cultural impediments to development in the short term. USAID needs to be more selective in crisis countries, even with multibillion-dollar budgets. n Stick to proven development principles. As much as possible, proven development principles—such as local owner- ship, local systems, sustainability, evidence-based design and implementation, strong monitoring and evaluation, country own- ership, and focus on institutions and local capacity—should be maintained and the requisite analyses carried out up front. n Flexibility and adaptability are key. Mechanisms and approaches should be in place to maximize flexibility for the agency and for the host government—for example, in shifting funding, narrowing activities and moving them to different geo- graphic areas—given constant changes and fluctuating oppor- tunities. Headquarters needs to fully support any new flexible arrangements. n Expect and plan for high levels of oversight. Develop an agreement with the various agencies’ inspectors general, GAO and congressional staff, when possible, on monitoring and risk mitigation. In a high-risk, political and conflict-driven environ- ment, develop and ensure constant senior-level attention to a robust monitoring system that also tracks security incidents. Management systems should be set up to make real-time deci- sions on project activities. In summary, what, in fact, do we learn from the American University of Afghanistan and other USAID projects in Afghani- stan? At a minimum, we see that U.S. assistance can make a difference in individual lives, and that we can develop institu- tions that are positioned to make a difference over the long term, although sustainability remains a major issue. We also learn that our work to improve lives involves huge risks. Just as the potential gains from programming civilian assistance in a conflict zone should not be exaggerated, neither should the risks and costs be underestimated. n It is vital that USAID officers involved in planning future interventions review and take to heart the lessons being learned fromAfghanistan.