Cablegate: Ministerial Capacity Surge Assessment - Interim Report

DE RUEHGB #1008/01 0921648
P 011648Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: As of March 30, 97 percent of the 75 "surge"
advisors on Ministerial Capacity have arrived in Baghdad. Their
arrivals were staggered; in mid-January, 53 percent were present and
working in country. Surge personnel focus on providing targeted
skills to several key non-security ministries; eighteen provide
targeted assistance on energy issues. Overall, ministerial
engagement team leaders agree that surge personnel enable them to
focus on critical initiatives that would otherwise have been
difficult to tackle. Surge personnel have been most effective when
their skills match specific needs in Iraqi ministries. But because
those needs are evolving, flexibility is also essential. While it
is early to point to specific accomplishments, surge personnel are
addressing ministerial priorities that advance both Government of
Iraq (GOI) and U.S. interests. As they do so, they face one major
obstacle - security restrictions that can severely limit access to
the Ministries. The success of this surge will depend on whether
personnel are able to work around these physical limitations.

2. (SBU) As events of the past week have shown, that is not always
easy. Ministries are often wary of a too-visible U.S. presence,
day-to-day, in the Ministry. In addition, security details will not
permit predictable daily trips to and from the same location. For
that reason, with the exception of two "mini-surges," currently in
the planning stages, we recommend holding to existing numbers of
advisors for the present. We will assess effectiveness again in our
next quarterly assessment; in addition, two broader assessment
efforts are underway; the results will inform our planning. Some
surge personnel are considering whether locally engaged staff,
appropriately trained, might continue implementation of programs
once surge personnel depart, an approach already used by USAID
programs. END SUMMARY.


3. (SBU) Surge personnel focus primarily on work with ministries at
the national, not provincial, level. They are most effective when
their specific technical expertise matches the needs of the
ministries. But those needs have evolved since positions were
originally identified. U.S. priorities have also shifted, placing
greater emphasis on helping ministries spend their budgets on both
reconstruction and technical assistance. These shifting needs,
coupled with delays in identifying/hiring surge personnel, has
required flexibility from the Mission, the ministries, and surge


4. (SBU) Surge personnel are not "embedded" in ministries, and they
face a common obstacle: security. Most ministries are located
outside the International Zone (IZ), although individual Ministers
may live or maintain offices in the IZ. Travel to any ministry is
subject to Mission security restrictions, cancellation or
curtailment. Once on site, the visitor is extremely visible. Iraqi
officials - who have been the targets of kidnappings and
assassinations -- are sensitive to the optics of U.S. ministerial
assistance; some are more willing than others to meet with us in the
IZ. The Ministry of Health, for example, is currently off-limits;
surge personnel meet with the Minister - frequently - at his IZ
home. While some ministerial advisors (such as Electricity) see
Ministry personnel frequently, others visit ministries on average
one-two times per week. VTC capability is now available in the key
government offices and ministries, and could provide an alternative
to visits. However, it is a clear second best to meeting in person,
and highly dependent on a well-established relationship between the
participants. No question: personal, face-to-face contact is
better for this work. USAID's National Capacity Development
project, Tatweer, maintains two compounds outside the IZ with living
and office space for its staff. These lower-profile locations are
appreciated by GOI staff and used for training, meetings, and
follow-up assistance sessions.


5. (SBU) While it is early to judge their overall impact, the
"surge" has increased our ability to address both U.S. and GOI
priorities more effectively. This works best when both sides have
agreed that they ARE priorities. Key examples include:

USAID Implementing Partners: the Tatweer Program and Economic

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Growth II: Fifty (50) of the 75 surge personnel were recruited to
work across various ministries through two existing USAID projects:
Tatweer and the Economic Growth II program. USAID's National
Capacity Development Project, known by its Arabic name, Tatweer
(which means development) is the USG's principal national capacity
development effort, a three-year, $209 million development project
extending through July 2009. It operates out of two Red Zone
compounds, and has field offices in Mosul, Erbil and Basrah.
Working with 10 ministries and five executive offices, it focuses on
core areas of public management: budgeting, procurement, project
management, human resources, leadership/communication, strategic
planning, decision-making and information technology. Tatweer's 44
additional surge advisors expand ministerial engagement through
mentoring and coaching on public administration skills, and
addressing needed system reforms, with increased focus on GOI budget
execution. Economic Growth II advisors working with the Ministry of
Labor and Social Affairs designed and delivered a pilot system for
the GOI's social safety net program (now in use in Baghdad). They
are currently working on a database for national roll-out of the

Ministry of Health: While two of three Department of Health and
Human Services surge personnel have been on the ground for several
months, the third arrived only in early March. Surge personnel have
benefited from the November 2007 change of Health Ministers.
Working with the current Minister, surge personnel have identified
strategic priorities: transfer of U.S.-built assets (Primary Health
Clinics), training for operation of donated equipment, and reform of
the Iraqi system of procurement and distribution of medical
supplies. To this, surge personnel have recommended: development
of a field epidemiology program, enhanced coordination with PRTs on
health care issues, and improved budget execution. With the change
of Minister, U.S. proposals have found greater support; in our view,
the next 60-90 days will be critical to gauging our impact. For
that reason, we will add a six-month TDY staff member from CDC in
April, and plan to add an additional one-year position for a health
financial advisor.

Ministry of Finance: Surge personnel from the U.S. Treasury
Department have focused on two key issues: Iraqi implementation of
an electronic funds transfer (EFT) system and budget training for
ministerial and provincial Directors General. EFT is a key
priority; Iraq's present unit banking systems does not allow for
funds transfer between bank branches. EFT will also promote private
sector banking. For that reason, one member of the surge team has
been assigned this task. The second has managed budget execution
training for Ministerial and Provincial Directors General. Given
changes in the chart of accounts and procurement regulations, and
scant experience by provincial authorities, these courses are a key
component in U.S. efforts to maximize the GOI's ability to spend its
money. Three surge personnel hired through USAID's Economic Growth
II program are working closely with the MoF to restart the Iraqi
Financial Management Information System, designed to bring
efficiency and transparency in tracking and reporting executed
budgets. They have also developed a provincial budget tracking
system, which six provinces are piloting.

Ministry of Electricity/Ministry of Oil/Energy Fusion Cell: USAID
recruited and fielded 18 energy sector subject matter experts (to
support the Coalition's Energy Fusion Cell (EFC), which works with
the Ministries of Oil and Electricity. The 18, who now comprise the
Tatweer Energy Group, were in place by the end of January 2008, and
have expanded our efforts with these two key ministries. The
experts have focused specifically on streamlining procurement and
budget execution processes, and assisting with major contracting
actions. They also provide analysis and assistance in financial
management, procurement, human resources, information technology,
project management and training of ministry personnel. Since their
arrival, they have developed workplans in collaboration with the
ministries and the Coalition's Energy Fusion Cell. Ministers agreed
to the general content by mid-March; task-specific versions based on
this agreement are underway. Access by Embassy/surge personnel is
good; for example, there are near-daily meetings with MoE staff as
well as the Minister.

Ministry of Justice: Surge personnel (a mix of DOD, DOJ and USAID
resources) all arrived by the end of February. Their key priorities
are: the land registry, budget execution, and a long-term plan for
rehabilitation of the prison system. One team member is also
providing webmaster assistance to Iraq's official gazette and land
registry offices. The land registry project was specifically
identified by the Ministry's Director General (DG) as a GOI "must
do;" the land registry office was recently the target of an
insurgent threat and its destruction would have significantly
hampered development projects. (In the event, MNF-I Stratops was

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invaluable in coordinating emergency protection of the office by the
ISF with overwatch by MND-B.) Surge personnel have proven
particularly valuable in this field; for example, USAID Tatweer's
surge advisor is providing technical assistance to the land registry
office in Karada, including a pilot automation project. Among the
team's goals is to identify projects which the Iraqi government can
and should fund; the MoJ, like many other ministries, has found it
difficult to make decisions on funding anything outside their normal
budgeting process. Surge personnel face the same access issues as
those working with other key ministries, although we have noticed an
increasing willingness of MoJ officials to meet in the IZ.

Council of Ministers Secretariat and Legal Departments/
Prime Minister's Office/Shura Council/Gazette/Minister of State for
COR Affairs: Surge personnel, who had all arrived by
January/February, provide technical assistance to these institutions
on legislative development across the board. Access to and
interaction with these institutions is relatively easy; all are in
the IZ with the exception of the Gazette and Shura Council. Surge
personnel are assessing ways to train locally engaged staff to work
with the Red Zone-based Shura Council and Gazette (the Shura Council
is particularly wary of visible foreign influence). Surge
personnel have increased the U.S. ability to strengthen these
institutions. Among their proposals: a "quick-start" training
program for COR staff and members, to be announced March 31. The
Embassy proposed reobligation of IRRF funding to support the efforts
of this surge team. Tatweer surge advisors working in GOI executive
offices continue to assist with GOI civil service reform,
organizational reforms and requests for specialized training

Ministry of Agriculture: One of two surge personnel slated for the
Ministry of Agriculture arrived in mid-February; the second is being
recruited. The surge advisor has two primary projects. The first
is developing plans for the revitalization of Iraq's agricultural
research and education center in Abu Ghraib - a cluster of
institutes that has historically been the backbone of Iraq's
agricultural research and training. Securing and revitalizing the
Abu Ghraib "agriculture alley" will also offer enhanced
opportunities for in-country training. Because this expert has
previous experience in agricultural cooperatives, he will also act
as advisor to a PRT pilot project designed to develop cooperatives
as a means to wean Iraqi farmers from over-reliance on central
government decision-making and input supply. Through Tatweer, 44
ministry staff have become trained trainers; the ministry leads in
the number of staff who have participated in the full range of
public administration courses. Ministry staff are also implementing
a new organizational self-assessment tool introduced by Tatweer and
institutionalized throughout the GOI.

Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation: While we had
considered shifting this position, the Planning Minister's direct
request for assistance changed our opinion. The advisor, on the
ground a few weeks, has quickly built his credibility with the
Minister, despite the difficulty of travel to the Red Zone for
meetings. Mutual assessment of needs is underway; initial
discussions have identified the need for cost-benefit analysis
models which the Ministry of Planning (and other ministries) could
use to prioritize project spending. More targeted training is also
a priority for the Ministry, including "train the trainer" courses
that would maximize specialized knowledge - building on earlier
training through Tatweer. Tatweer surge personnel are also
responding to specific requests from and developing capacity in the
Ministry's National Center for Consultancy and Management
Development (NCCMD), Central Organization for Statistics and
Information Technology (COSIT), the Central Organization for
Standardization and Quality Control (COSQC), and the Al Quds School
for computers.


6. (SBU) What have we learned so far? First and foremost, that
buy-in from the Ministries is essential to our effectiveness.
Second - and related - is that Iraqis' sense of national ownership
is on the rise; they want to be seen as leading their ministries.
That means we need to minimize our profile as we continue to provide
much needed expertise. Third, the technical credibility of our
experts is of paramount importance. The better they are, the better
they answer specific Iraqi needs, the more they are relied upon.
Fourth, Arabic language skills are important - but not for all jobs.
Finally, security issues will continue to constrain our access for
the time being. We will need to be creative and flexible to
overcome this hurdle.

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7. (SBU) Most Ministerial team leaders believe that the next three
months will be a crucial proving ground for our surge personnel and
their efforts. While their fields of expertise are different and,
in some cases, extremely specialized, both surge personnel and
existing ministerial engagement teams recognize budget execution as
a joint U.S.-GOI priority (and a key metric of success). The GOI
intends to propose a supplemental budget in the May-June timeframe.
In order to be considered for additional funding, ministries must
have committed 25 percent of their 2008 budget by May 1. This will
be a significant challenge - one that our advisors must work with
their ministries to address.

8. (SBU) Some surge personnel and ministerial engagement team
leaders have already identified areas where additional U.S. advice
would help boost ministerial capacity. Our effort with the Ministry
of Health is slated for a second, "mini-surge" in the coming weeks,
when our Health team is joined by a six-month TDY CDC Public Health
expert dedicated to working with PRTs on health issues. A second
health budget execution advisor, on financial issues, is currently
being selected. Our health team continues to explore with DOD
whether they could assist in identifying an expert on pharmaceutical
procurement and distribution. In addition to a plus-up of the
health team, the Embassy has proposed reobligation of existing IRRF
funds to add 12 Treasury advisors -- an intensive effort to maximize
Iraqi budget execution capability. These funds, however, are
subject to congressional approval.

9. (SBU) With these exceptions, we believe it is time to stand pat,
and let these surge experts focus on their priorities. By our next
quarterly assessment, however, it will be time to evaluate whether
existing surge positions should be continued or redirected. For
some programs, transition to locally engaged staff may be
appropriate. But we will also need to look beyond the "surge 75" to
our broader ministerial engagement teams. Many of our experts are
part of the Embassy's ITAO office, which is slated for gradual
drawdown. As the best ministerial advisors have technical expertise
that ministries value, we will need to consider how to maintain a
productive match of advisors to ministries.


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