Ukraine: Lessons from Other Conflicts Can Improve the Results of U.S. Recovery Assistance

Applying lessons from prior U.S. efforts in countries engaged in recovery activities during and after a conflict can inform recovery efforts in Ukraine and increase the likelihood of sustainable results.

The Big Picture

Recovery efforts can start while a conflict is ongoing. In Ukraine, such efforts have begun as the country seeks to stabilize areas under its control. The U.S. has already started funding and implementing projects to address short-term recovery needs and to plan for longer-term efforts, even during the conflict. Our work over the last 30 years illustrates lessons for improving the results of U.S. recovery assistance, which could aid these efforts in Ukraine.

The U.S. is currently focusing on governance, rule of law, and economic reform assistance, which is vital for attracting private sector investment, preparing Ukraine for European Union membership, and ensuring the results of future reconstruction efforts.

The World Bank and other donors estimate total recovery needs at $486 billion over 10 years. Donors expect that the private sector could fund a significant portion, including large infrastructure projects, if investment risks are manageable.

Applying lessons on (1) maintaining a clear strategy and financial plan, (2) ensuring political and civil society support, (3) promoting effective coordination, and (4) establishing and utilizing accountability mechanisms increases the prospect that assistance will lead to sustainable outcomes and reduces fiduciary risks.

What GAO’s Work Shows

U.S. assistance for recovery efforts should be guided by comprehensive strategies that, among other things, clearly define objectives and estimate costs.

Rule of law assistance to countries of the former Soviet Union had limited results and was unsustainable. We recommended that U.S. agencies create strategies with defined, sustainable outcomes.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, challenges in rebuilding efforts underscored the importance of strategies that clearly articulate objectives and indicate the funding resources needed to achieve and sustain them.

In Iraq, worsening security conditions led to delays and increased overall project costs beyond what was anticipated, emphasizing the need to revise timelines and estimated costs to reflect changes in security.

Political will and civil society support in the host (recipient) country are necessary for reforms to succeed. Opposition from powerful vested interests can slow reform or prevent it entirely. Enhancing political will and civil society support can increase the chances of assistance having the greatest benefit.

In Bosnia, where U.S. assistance aimed to build basic government institutions and create a free market economy, we found Bosnian leaders’ lack of political will had impeded reform. We recommended conditioning aid on measurable progress.

In Nigeria and other African countries, working with leaders who were committed to anti-corruption reforms was crucial. Public-private partnerships and campaigns by civil society groups are ways to raise awareness of problems and generate will for reform.

Practices that facilitate coordination among U.S. agencies and with the host country and other international donors increase awareness of ongoing programs. They also increase the quality and efficiency of assistance through improved program design and reduced duplication.

Coordination mechanisms, such as embassy-level working groups or interagency databases, may reduce duplication, overlap, or fragmentation in U.S. assistance. In 2020, we found embassy staff in Ukraine lacked full information on democracy assistance programs. We recommended that State Department develop an information-sharing mechanism for coordination, but it had not done so as of April 2024.

Transferring information to incoming embassy staff ensures continuity in decision-making, especially in conflict zones with high staff turnover and attrition.

International donors can better support host country priorities when the host government identifies the type and amount of assistance it needs.

Coordination may be hindered when other donors have their own mandates, funding, and priorities.

Establishing U.S. and host country accountability mechanisms for recovery assistance can increase transparency and the likelihood that any financial assistance is used as intended.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. increased oversight of recovery efforts by providing additional funding for departmental and government-wide oversight entities. Their work identified accountability issues and resulted in cost savings.

Limited monitoring of projects in Afghanistan due to security concerns heightened the risk of fraud, waste, and mismanagement of resources. In Syria, third-party monitors promoted accountability in insecure situations but needed training, including on identifying fraud. Remote monitoring with digital tools such as videoconferencing can also be used where it is unsafe to conduct in-person oversight.

Security issues can reduce the quality of foreign assistance evaluations by limiting the ability to collect appropriate and reliable data.

A preventive, strategic approach to managing corruption and fraud risks is critical. It should include context-specific risk assessments, a risk mitigation plan emphasizing preventive controls, anti-corruption controls, and documentation requirements for transparent decision-making.

Challenges and Opportunities

Policymakers need to consider several questions in applying lessons for improving the results of recovery assistance to Ukraine, including the following:

Given that insecurity can threaten recovery, howcan the U.S. make sustainable investments inUkraine’s recovery while the war is ongoing?
Currently, Ukraine’s government supportsaccountability reform. What actions can the U.S.take to sustain this support while managinguncertainty over continued funding?
How can the U.S. best coordinate with otherdonors and Ukraine to avoid duplication orfragmentation of efforts?
Amid volatile security conditions, whataccountability measures can the U.S. implementto mitigate corruption, fraud, and diversion risks?
For more information, contact: Latesha Love-Grayer, Director, International Affairs and Trade, LovegrayerL@gao.gov, (202) 512-4409.

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