GAO Report – Foreign Food Aid

We all sort of know that the US provides food to countries around the world where people are going hungry. We sort of know that there has been famine or hunger as a result of war in some countries.

We also know that throughout this Administration’s term there has been gross mismanagement across the government. That mismanagement has included huge overpayments, no oversight to assure that the work was done, cronyism, and a blind preference for private rather than public providers. So is it possible that when it comes to international food aid, things are going well?


Delivering food across oceans, into troubled areas, into areas with poor infrastructure, into areas with high levels of corruption, to people who have different customs and languages is certainly no easy thing. So even under the best of circumstances, we would expect some challenges.

A new report from GAO gives us the following in its summary:

Since 2002, Congress has appropriated an average of $2 billion per year for U.S. food aid programs, which delivered an average of 4 million metric tons of food commodities per year.

Despite growing demand for food aid, rising business and transportation costs have contributed to a 52 percent decline in average tonnage delivered over the last 5 years.

Inefficiencies in food delivery include:

(1) funding and planning processes that increase delivery costs and lengthen time frames;

(2) ocean transportation and contracting practices that create high levels of risk for ocean carriers, resulting in increased rates;

(3) legal requirements that result in awarding of food aid contracts to more expensive service providers;

(4) inadequate coordination between U.S. agencies and food aid stakeholders to track and respond to food and delivery problems.

Although efforts are being made by US AID and USDA to address these issues, there are still problems:

The long-term cost effectiveness of these initiatives has not yet been measured.

The current practice of using food aid to generate cash for development projects monetization is an inherently inefficient use of resources.

Problems that affect the most vulnerable populations include

(1) challenging operating environments in recipient countries;

(2) insufficient coordination among key stakeholders, resulting in disparate estimates of food needs;

(3) difficulty in identifying vulnerable groups and causes of their food insecurity;

(4) resource constraints on conducting reliable assessments and providing food and other assistance.

U.S. agencies do not adequately monitor food aid programs because:

they have limited staff

competing priorities

restrictions on the use of food aid resources.

As a result, these programs are vulnerable to not getting the right food to the right people at the right time.

Foreign Assistance: Various Challenges Impede the Efficiency and Effectiveness of U.S. Food Aid GAO-07-560 (April 13, 2007)

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