The mission of the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) is to help finance ministries and central banks of developing and transition countries strengthen their ability to manage public finances effectively and safeguard their financial sectors. Such assistance is in the interest of OTA partner countries and the United States. Strong financial sectors and sound management of public finance support financial stability, investment, and economic growth. Developing countries that generate more domestic revenue and manage their resources effectively are less dependent on foreign aid. Governments that develop effective financial sector oversight regimes are valuable partners in the global effort to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. OTA’s work supports the Treasury Department’s strategic goals to enhance U.S. competitiveness and job creation, and promote international financial stability and more balanced global growth, and to safeguard the financial system and use financial measures to counter national security threats.
Requests for technical assistance and information regarding potential projects initially may come from many sources, including U.S. embassies, USAID missions, other offices within Treasury, international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and from OTA advisors already on the ground implementing other projects. In all circumstances, however, OTA requires as a prerequisite to any potential engagement that a written request come from the foreign counterpart government. In this way, OTA ensures at least a modicum of political will, which is fundamental to a successful engagement.
Where a written request from the host government has been received and the requested technical assistance is deemed to be within the OTA mandate, an on-the-ground assessment is typically conducted. This assessment is staffed usually by an OTA Associate Director and/or Senior Advisor with deep experience in the subject matter as well as technical assistance norms. During the assessment visit, OTA assessors will meet with stakeholders to determine whether technical assistance needs are consistent with the type of support OTA provides (e.g., consultative not equipment purchases) and whether there is sufficient political will and leadership to make recommended reforms.
During the in-country visit, OTA assessors identify a counterpart office appropriate to host OTA advisors, given that a fundamental operating principle is that they be co-located with the counterpart. Likewise, during the assessment, general goals and objectives of a prospective engagement are discussed and shared with counterpart stakeholders to gauge their recognition of the associated need to take on requisite reforms. In the experience of OTA, goals and objectives that are not “owned” by the counterpart are seldom achieved.
The assessment results and recommendations are detailed in a final written report. OTA recommendations to begin a new project (or to continue or terminate existing projects, for that matter) are based on criteria and considerations that include (i) the need for technical assistance; (ii) evidence of counterpart commitment to reform and good use of assistance; (iii) whether the project would complement other projects in a particular country or region and not be duplicative; (iv) the relation of the project to Treasury policy priorities and broader U.S. Government goals; and (v) the availability of funding. In the course of assessing the prospects for a given project, OTA also consults with other Treasury offices, and other partners and stakeholders such as the Department of State and USAID (both in the field, at the embassy level and at the headquarters level in Washington), the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. The assessment report typically includes a recommendation to OTA management and potential outside funders of whether an engagement is warranted; the scope of any such engagement; and a summary of meetings with counterpart stakeholders and other interested parties. The general results of the assessment are typically shared during an out-briefing with U.S. embassy officials, including representatives who often join OTA during the assessment meetings. The assessment report in final form is also distributed to the embassy, as well as to others within the U.S. interagency.
C. MODES OF ENGAGEMENT AND STAFFING
OTA engagements are constructed on a resident- or intermittent-advisor basis. Whether a resident or intermittent project model is selected depends on the extent and nature of the problems to be solved, and the most practical solutions to those problems. OTA resident advisors typically are co-located with their counterparts and work with them on a daily basis, whereas intermittent engagements allow for regular advisor visits of one week or more in duration over a series of months. In both scenarios, the work of the OTA resident advisor or intermittent team lead is supplemented by subject matter expert advisors, each of whom provides particularized technical assistance on an intermittent basis. For both types of engagements, OTA often hires a permanent, full-time program assistant in-country to support the project.
OTA advisors are typically employed under personal services contracts directly with Treasury, although some advisors are U.S. Government direct hires or detailees from other U.S. Government agencies. Advisors are recruited and hired after established careers in the financial, regulatory, analytical, enforcement or legal sectors. Nearly all of them come to OTA having worked and/or lived overseas and many of them have foreign language competency. OTA maintains an ongoing recruitment process so that it can respond quickly and favorably to emerging counterpart needs.
OTA advisors in the field are supported by a small Washington-based office that provides management, administrative and logistical support. OTA management ensures the integrity of the engagement through ongoing monitoring and evaluation as well as serves as a focal point for D.C.-based inter-agency collaboration and communication, including achieving technical assistance outcomes that are maximally supportive of policy objectives.
D. TERMS OF REFERENCE
Once a resident or intermittent project is selected and a funding source identified, a Terms of Reference (TOR) document is presented to the counterpart agency and signed. The TOR describes the broad goals of the project and represents a bilateral understanding at the policy level between the Treasury and the host institution. The willingness of the host institution to enter into the TOR also serves as another key indicator of political commitment. As such, it is another prerequisite of an OTA engagement.
E. WORK PLAN DEVELOPMENT
Within a short period after signing the TOR, a detailed work plan is developed and agreed to by OTA management, the advisor assigned to the project, and the working-level counterparts. The work plan identifies key, prioritized challenges and activities to ensure progress is made to remedy them in a given period of time. The work plan serves as a baseline against which monthly progress reports are submitted and achievements-to-date are monitored. That said, the work plan is viewed as a flexible document and can be amended to meet emerging needs or new priorities, assuming the consent of the counterpart(s) and the concurrent availability of funding.
F. MONITORING AND EVALUATION
OTA evaluates its projects using a variety of methods, including written monthly reports prepared by advisors that describe progress against work plan objectives; capture counterpart achievements linked to technical assistance; and where warranted identify impediments to progress. The monthly reports are broadly disseminated, including within Treasury; to the U.S. embassy and others at Post; and to other U.S. Government offices with expressed interest. The reports are a critical management tool to track progress and initiate corrective action where warranted. In addition to oversight through review of the monthly reports, supervising officials also conduct annual on-site program reviews to meet with the counterparts and advisors, review the project progress, and support programmatic planning. Depending on the requirements of outside funders, OTA also prepares reporting documents that typically chronicle developments over a defined period (e.g., quarterly). These substantive reports are usually paired with financial reporting for that same duration.
OTA also evaluates the interim progress of an engagement through an end-of-tour report, which captures the feedback and assessment of advisors concluding a particular assignment as either a resident advisor or team lead in the case of an intermittent program. In addition, at the conclusion of an engagement, OTA also mandates an end-of-project report to evaluate the potential long-term impact of an engagement as well as to capture “lessons learned” to improve implementation elsewhere. To ensure impartiality, these reports are prepared by OTA staff otherwise unaffiliated with implementation of the particular project and are conducted typically within three to six months following the end of assistance activities.
In addition to monitoring and evaluation through reporting, OTA also evaluates the “traction” and “impact” of its ongoing engagements through an annual exercise. Using a numerical scale and in consultation with OTA managers, resident advisors or team leads annually assess each program for its level of “traction” (i.e., the degree to which changes in behavior have occurred, such as officials taking an active and participative role in pursuing change or interim deliverables on or ahead of schedule), and “impact” (i.e., the extent to which direct or indirect program objectives are actually achieved). The setting of annual baseline targets and measuring results against those targets are done in accordance with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance on program evaluations.
In addition to the traction and impact evaluation, OTA also issues “customer” surveys to policy and working-level counterparts in the host country, together with other interested parties to include U.S. embassy staff, funding sources, local interest groups and others who know first-hand of the work of OTA advisors on a particular engagement. The survey is valuable as it provides direct feedback from parties outside of the program with an interest in receiving and/or promoting high quality technical assistance and often times experience that provides a basis for comparing the efficacy of assistance programs.