East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 1997, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

U.S. Congressional Watchdog Agency Evaluates Aid to Russia:
Lessons for Ministry

Harold J. Johnson

Editor's Note: Mission agencies can derive valuable lessons from this U.S. Government report on Washington's successes and failures in assisting democratic and market reforms in Russia.

Common Themes in Successful Projects
Successful projects (1) had strong support and involvement at all levels of the Russian government, (2) had a long-term physical presence by U.S. contractors in  Russia, and (3) were designed to achieve maximum results by supporting Russian  initiatives, having a broad scope, and including elements that made them sustainable.  A critical element to a project's success was the degree to which Russian officials were committed to reform.

Strong Support and Involvement at all Russian Levels
Russians at both the federal and local levels demonstrated a strong commitment to projects that were contributing to systemic reform. The Russian government also provided financial or in-kind support, and Russian nationals held leadership roles in the projects.  In contrast, many less successful projects lacked the buy-in of Russians at either the local or federal level and had little Russian involvement or contribution.

Long-term Presence by U.S. Contractors in Russia
Successful projects usually had long-term advisers living in Russia, which enabled the advisers to build trust, learn about local conditions, monitor progress closely, and correct problems as they occurred.  In addition, successful projects involved contractors that had appropriate experience to carry out the project. Contractors implementing many of the less successful projects did not have staff living in the Russian cities being assisted.  Many U.S. officials, Russians, and contractors said that relying on "fly-through" consultants rather than permanent staff was an ineffective approach.

Designed to Maximize Results
Successful projects--housing reform, voucher privatization, and coal industry restructuring--were designed to be sustainable, have a widespread effect, and support existing initiatives.  Each project supported ongoing Russian efforts at widespread reform, considered local conditions, and contained elements to sustain the effects of the  project beyond its life plan. In contrast, several projects did not adequately identify outcomes or measurable results.

Russian Involvement and Commitment
It is widely acknowledged that the Russian people themselves will determine the ultimate success or failure of political and economic reforms.  Without their involvement and commitment to change, outside assistance will have a limited effect.  In several sectors, a Russian commitment to reform remains elusive.  Powerful factions in the Russian legislative branch strongly oppose land reform, and the Ministry of Health has not demonstrated a commitment to health-care reform.  This lack of commitment raises concerns that projects in the agriculture and health sectors will not have widespread benefits.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) management Performance
USAID responded quickly to assist Russia.  Although USAID provided a quick and flexible response to a fluid, unpredictable situation, several management problems occurred, in part because of the quick response. The large size of USAID's program, the vast geographic area receiving assistance, and staff limitations have prevented adequate monitoring in some cases. USAID officials had not visited some projects and USAID did not have representatives located outside Moscow.  Without adequate staff, USAID relied mainly on contractors' written and oral reports to monitor projects, but some contractors did not report all problems.  In some cases, USAID had not determined the relative success or failure of projects so that it could apply lessons learned to other efforts.  USAID has not yet developed a good management information system for its Russia program... [including]  baseline data, targets, time frames, and quantifiable indicators by which to measure program progress and results.

The devolution of management and monitoring responsibility from USAID's Washington office to a rapidly growing Moscow office  has not been smooth, and several problems have developed as a result.  There were tensions between the Washington and Moscow offices because of differences regarding program implementation.

We recommend that USAID focus assistance efforts on projects that (1) will contribute to systemic reforms; (2) are designed to be sustainable; (3) are supported by all levels of Russian government; and (4) whenever possible, use American contractors with an in-country presence.

The full 19-page GAO report, "Foreign Assistance:  Assessment of Selected USAID Projects in Russia (GAO-NSIAD-95-156)," August 1995,  is available on the Internet at:  http://www.aa.net/~russia/texts/pd146.html. 

Harold J. Johnson is Director of International Affairs Issues, U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO).

Lessons to Learn From Government Experience

Mark Elliott

An effective Western ministry project in Russia:

  1. will include strong Russian ownership and commitment;
  2. will involve missionary service in-country for the long term;
  3. will require personnel with the appropriate experience and expertise;
  4. will be sustainable and reproduceable;
  5. will entail on-site monitoring of progress and rigorous post-project evaluation; and
  6. will minimize tensions between the Western headquarters, the in-country office, and the field.

Harold J. Johnson, "Lessons for Ministry," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 5 (Winter 1997), 3-4.

Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

1997 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

EWC&M Report | Contents | Search Back Issues | From Our Readers | Subscribe