Pentagon unveils major policy to evaluate security cooperation programs

Each year, the Department of Defense (DoD) spends roughly $9 billion in taxpayer funds on engagements with foreign countries, much of it in the form of efforts to build the capacity of their militaries to provide effective, accountable security to their citizens.  These efforts – collectively called security cooperation – are not altruistic; rather, they are at the heart of the Department’s strategic approaches to preventing, mitigating, and responding to the world’s conflicts.

In Iraq, for example, DoD assistance is used to train and equip Iraqi Security Forces to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist organization.  DoD security cooperation in Ukraine serves to modernize a Soviet-era military in order to help it defend sovereign Ukrainian territory against separatist militias and Russian interference.  In Central America, DoD partners with national militaries to help them monitor and degrade illicit narco-trafficking networks before drugs reach U.S. borders.

What is remarkable about all of these efforts is that, despite a budget equal to that of the entire Department of Commerce, DoD has few ways to determine whether or not they are working.

Now that will change.

For the first time, the Department is issuing a new policy, in the form of Department of Defense Instruction 5132.14, that establishes a framework for the Assessment, Monitoring, and Evaluation (AM&E) of DoD security cooperation.  This enterprise-wide AM&E policy will ensure that all major security cooperation initiatives are preceded by in-depth assessments of preexisting conditions and requirements and monitored throughout implementation.  Moreover, it will establish a central evaluations office with the mandate to conduct evaluations of security cooperation initiatives on a prioritized basis.

In developing this AM&E policy framework, the Department was guided by four broad principles:

  • Focus on Learning. The policy states, “Accountability and learning are the primary purposes of AM&E and will shape efforts to leverage security cooperation more effectively in support of defense objectives in the near, medium, and long terms.  AM&E indicates returns on investment, allows policymakers to identify and improve or eliminate ineffective initiatives, and provides credible information in support of policy and legislation.  AM&E will help DoD understand what security cooperation methods work and why, and apply lessons learned and best practices to inform security cooperation resources and policy decisions.”  AM&E is not intended to be punitive or overbearing.  It is intended as a tool to support better decisions and more effective outcomes.
  • Deliberative Planning. Developing planning designs for programs or initiatives is essential to effective AM&E. Those program designs must be firmly rooted in information collected through assessments and include clear plans for monitoring and evaluation.  The AM&E policy framework requires that planners develop an Initiative Design Document for all major security cooperation efforts that identifies “SMART” objectives and includes M&E plans.  It is intended to be a living document, updated as conditions and expectations change; however, the upfront articulation of objectives and plans will dramatically improve the Department’s ability to ensure clear strategic linkages and clarity of purpose for all of its activities.
  • A Hybrid Approach. DoD is by far the US Government’s largest bureaucracy, with numerous civilian components, military services, and defense agencies.  To develop an AM&E approach tailored to this complex bureaucracy, DoD opted for a hybrid approach, assigning responsibility for assessment and monitoring functions to the organizations planning and implementing security cooperation activities, while maintaining a centralized evaluation function.  Centralizing the evaluation function will ensure the independence of evaluations in line with international best practices, and will allow the Department to prioritize which efforts are to be evaluated, recognizing that evaluating each of the hundreds of activities conducted annually would be cost prohibitive.
  • Transparency. Over the last few years, DoD has made great strides in the transparency of its security cooperation efforts.  It has more than doubled the number of programs for which data is reported through, moved from annual to quarterly reporting of such data, and established a new website – – to make security cooperation data available to the public.  This AM&E framework builds on these efforts, requiring that summaries of every evaluation conducted be made available to the public via a DoD website.  Such transparency will help ensure that the public understands and continues to support DoD security cooperation activities, while generating public and academic discourse to help DoD identify areas for improvement.

DoD’s new policy attempts to build on the outstanding leadership and lessons learned from USAID and other agencies that have previously initiated AM&E frameworks.  In fact, experts who participated in the development of USAID and State Department AM&E policies were key contributors to the development of the DoD policy.

Just as importantly, the new Instruction builds on existing DoD efforts.  The Department’s capstone policy governing security cooperation, DoD Directive 5132.03, was recently revised to include specific requirements that AM&E accompany security cooperation activities.  It states, “DoD will maintain a robust program of assessment, monitoring, and evaluation of security cooperation to provide policymakers, planners, program managers, and implementers the information necessary to evaluate outcomes, identify challenges, make appropriate corrections, and maximize effectiveness of future security cooperation activities.”  Moreover, it is informed by several years of individual efforts by Geographic Combatant Commands, specific program managers, and other DoD stakeholders who have undertaken AM&E activities in a narrower context.

Ultimately, the Department uses security cooperation to achieve defense policy objectives in which the stakes are quite high.  Such efforts are designed to help US troops avoid conflict or, in the event conflict is unavoidable, to help US troops prevail with minimal risk to their safety.  Moreover, such efforts are designed to deter and mitigate conflicts that risk the lives of millions of global citizens.  If we are to hope to achieve such important aims, we simply must be able to measure whether our efforts are effective and determine how to enhance them.  This AM&E framework will finally begin to give DoD tools to do so.


This is a guest post from Thomas W. Ross Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Cooperation, Department of Defense.

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