A government watchdog recently found that the State Department is floundering in its attempt to track the use and impact of billions of dollars in foreign aide around the globe.
In a report [PDF] published last month, the State Department's Office of Inspector General said that two years after it warned the department that it's oversight mechanisms were insufficient, "limited progress" has been made in developing a "comprehensive plan to improve the Department’s foreign assistance data tracking and reporting."
The IG pointed out the tracking issue in a 2015 report that noted different parts of the State Department, including individual embassies, had spent millions improvising their own tracking systems, which could not be used on a department-wide level.
"For example, the Department cannot readily analyze its foreign assistance by country or programmatic sector to determine what particular funds remain unspent," the IG report says. "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."
Even within a single embassy, the information was not always readily available. At the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, for example, data on foreign aide programs was found in "more than 50 separate documents and systems."
The IG report says a working group tasked in 2015 with upgrading the State Department's disparate tracking systems made some headway, but then was stymied when it could not agree how to tackle basic questions. No one on the group was senior enough to "engineer a solution" on their own authority.
The working group did come up with a proposal, which cost approximately $1 million, which would address some of the issues, but the IG reported it was not nearly broad enough to tackle the major problems.
In the end, the IG made two recommendations: The State Department should come up with "clear requirements" for its data needs of senior policymakers, and a senior official should be assigned to the working group to bust through the stoppage. The State Department reportedly concurred with both recommendations.