JM 2000/INF/3



Rome, 27 September 2000

Decentralization of operational responsibilities to the country level


I. Introduction

1. The Programme and Finance Committees at their Joint Meeting in May 2000 requested further information inter alia on "the devolution of operational responsibilities and the impact that such responsibilities would have on the functioning of the FAORs" (CL 119/8, para 13).

2. This paper presents a status report on the transfer of operational responsibilities to the FAO Representatives (FAOR's). Information on other aspects of decentralization, as requested by the Committees, is provided in document JM 2000/2.

II. Rationale and objectives

3. In the Programme of Work and Budget for 2000-2001 the Director-General indicated his intention to "set in train structural changes in the Regional Offices outside Rome" and to "capitalize on the potential synergies between technical groups, operations branches and the MSUs in Regional Offices outside Rome by integrating their operational and related administrative work" (C99/3, para 76). It will be recalled that between1996 and 1998, the Regional Offices had assumed responsibility for a large share of operational projects formerly carried out at Headquarters. These included the operation of national and regional field projects, while interregional and global projects, as well as extrabudgetary normative activities, continued to be under the responsibility of Headquarters units, both operational and technical.

4. In late 1999 and early 2000, and on the basis of the experience gained with the decentralization of operations to the Regional Offices, it was decided to introduce new arrangements for the field programme, with a view to achieving three main objectives:

  1. To further reduce the cost of supporting the field programme in view of the decline in delivery volume of non-emergency, extrabudgetary field activities (around 10% per year in the period 1996-1999) and the need to increase the Organization's ability to compete for decreasing technical assistance funds, as stated in the Strategic Framework 2000-2015.

  2. To bring operations of national projects closer to where the action takes place, the country level, benefitting from the possibilities offered by new communication technologies.

  3. To increase efficiencies in the field programme as a whole as well as accountability for individual projects by reducing the number of intermediary steps and concentrating authority over the project in the FAOR and project staff.

5. In addition to the decentralization of responsibility for non-emergency project execution, the new arrangements include various other changes which are outside the scope of this paper. These are:

- Technical officers at Headquarters will execute Global and Inter-regional projects.

- The Regional Offices will retain responsibility for Regional projects and for projects in countries without FAORs.

- The structure of the Technical Cooperation Department will need to be reorganized to reflect the new arrangements, partly because of the transfer of much of its operational responsibility to other units and partly to rationalize the remaining, often smaller, units.

6. Therefore at the end of the process, the distribution of operational responsibilities between Headquarters and the decentralized structure will be rationalized as follows:

III. Approach to implementation

7. In the 50-year history of FAO's field programme, the present redistribution of operational tasks entails a more radical reform than the previous ones. In effect, project operations during the fifties, sixties and part of the seventies were under the direct responsibility of the technical divisions. Operations were performed by the technical officers themselves at the early stages and in Operations Branches established within the technical divisions when the programme developed beyond the level that technical staff could handle.

8. In a subsequent re-organization (1973), the operations units were re-grouped at the level of three Departments: Agriculture (which also included the Economic and Social Department for operational purposes), Forestry and Fisheries. With the creation of the Technical Cooperation Department in 1995 all operations irrespective of technical subject were managed by a single Department. This facilitated the decentralization to the Regional Offices referred to in para 3. above.

9. Throughout this process, responsibility for operations has moved among various structures but it has been handled essentially by the same specialized officers. The present reform changes this pattern and departs from previous reforms by entrusting operations to the FAORs who, while playing a key role in project negotiation and monitoring, have not had direct, budget holder responsibility for field projects.

10. Although project execution is not an entirely new field for the FAORs, who already carry out a number of project-related actions (local procurement, hiring of national consultants etc...), the novelty of this change underscores the need for a gradual and careful approach to its implementation. As the Committees pointed out at their previous Joint Meeting, the FAORs perform a number of vital tasks for the Organization and care must be taken that their offices are appropriately staffed and equipped to be able to discharge the new duties.

IV. State of progress

11. In February this year, the Director-General established a Change Management Team (CMT), chaired by the Director, TCO, with a broad range of participation from other Divisions and Units, to plan and implement the new arrangements for the field programme, including the transfer of operations to FAOR offices.

12. The CMT adopted a consultative and participatory modus operandi. Regional Change Management Teams (RCMTs) were established in the Regional Offices. Direct visits and a continuous flow of information, consultations and communications have allowed the CMT work to go forward in a truly participatory way.

13. Country offices were also involved in the process and grouped in three categories (A, B and C) in accordance with their degree of preparedness to execute projects. The categories were defined as follows:

Group A: Offices that are in a position to assume operational responsibilities with their present staffing and infrastructure. Temporary clerical assistance, additional computers or other office equipment may be required.

Group B: Offices requiring temporary reinforcement according to programme delivery through the addition of professional (NPO) post(s) and general service staff (administrative clerks, programme assistants), as well as infrastructure improvements (local area networks, expansion of communication facilities).

Group C: Offices requiring substantive staff reinforcement of a continuing nature and/or the temporary redeployment of international staff as well as additional office space and improvements in office technology and communications.

14. Detailed surveys were carried out both of the offices' capacity and of the nature of the country programme, the latter through project-by-project analysis (both operational and pipeline) undertaken jointly with the Regional Offices. As a result of this process of selection, the following countries were included in Group A.

Africa - RAF Asia - RAP Europe - REU Latin America
and the Caribbean RLC
Near East - RNE
Ghana China Turkey Barbados Egypt
South Africa India   Chile Lebanon
Tanzania Philippines   Cuba Tunisia
Zimbabwe Thailand   El Salvador  
Nigeria Vietnam   Mexico  
Eritrea     Nicaragua  


15. The following pre-conditions were identified by the CMT, as necessary requirements for an effective transfer of operational responsibilities:

- Availability of a Field Accounting System (FAS) tested for efficiency in view of the fact that the FAORs would not have direct access to Oracle for reasons of cost. (It was subsequently identified that to meet the reporting requirements, FAS would need to be supplemented by Data Warehouse availability).

- Upgrading of IT infrastructure (PCs and LANs) when needed

- Training of FAORs and NPOs in project management techniques, financial and accounting systems, budget requirements, reporting and other operational matters.

- Establishment of arrangements for compensation for incremental work arising out of the new operational functions.

- Availability of updated Operational Guidelines.

16. These pre-requisites have been fulfilled as follows:

04 - 08 September 2000: RLC, Santiago

10 - 14 September 2000: RNE, Cairo

18 - 22 September 2000: RAP, Bangkok

25 - 29 September 2000: RAF, Accra

Effective date of first transfers

17. An important feature of the training sessions in September is the direct interaction between Country Project Officers (CPOs) responsible for the projects and FAORs/NPOs, to review the status of the programme in each country and each project situation including remaining budget, difficulties, constraints and actions to be taken. To facilitate this process, the Regional Operations Branches (ROBs) have prepared Hand-over Project Briefs on a project-by-project basis.

18. In order not to lose the benefit of this training the CMT considered it necessary to transfer the projects immediately after the training sessions. The effective date of 1 October 2000 has been established for all national projects in Group A countries.

After-transfer support

19. The budget drawn up by CMT for training contains provision for follow-up visits by the present CPOs to the FAOR offices to which their projects have been transferred. It is also envisaged that the reduced Operations Group that will remain in each Regional Office after the transfers will perform a continuous support function for FAORs in addition to carrying out regional and national projects as required.

V. Savings

20. The decentralization process seeks to achieve a more rational and streamlined operational structure for field projects. Hence, as indicated in paragraph 4, a primary purpose is to further reduce the cost of supporting the field programme. In the PWB 2000-01, savings of US$ 4.7 million were tentatively proposed under the ZNG scenario. However, as reported to the Finance Committee at its last session, the savings target for the current biennium was reduced to US$ 2 million, recognizing the need for prudence in the implementation of this major change.

21. The transfers of national projects to the 22 FAOR Offices in Group A represents approximately 12.5% of the delivery currently managed by the Regional Operations Branches (ROBs). Based on these estimates and taking into account the need to adjust staffing to the overall decline in delivery levels, an initial reduction of 7 Professional and 10 General Service posts has already been made in the ROBs out of an establishment in the PWB of 38 Professionals and 41 General Service. The estimated savings arising from such reductions amount to $1.5m in 2000-01.

22. Preliminary projections indicate that, at the end of the process, between 60 and 70% of operational projects now under the ROBs responsibility, will be executed by FAORs and technical officers.

23. However, at the time of writing, it is too early to quantify the total savings that will be achieved during the present biennium or in the longer term. These will depend upon the overall projected volume of the field programme, the number and distribution of projects that will be finally transferred to each of the FAORs and the precise timing of implementation of the new arrangements for the Group B and Group C FAORs.

24. Offsetting the staff savings in the Regional Operations Branches, incremental funding will be justified for some of the FAOR offices that acquire additional work from the Regional Operations Branches. Moreover, there is no budgetary provision in the PWB 2000-01 for one-off costs such as training, equipment and enhancing the communications infrastructure in the FAORs. Hence, the precise investment required for the Group B and Group C FAORs has yet to be determined.

25. Finally, the staffing strength that might remain in the Operations Groups has yet to be determined and must include some actions aimed at improving the qualitative aspects of field programme work in the respective regions, as well as the need to provide support to FAORs (the "help-desk" role), during both the transition phase and the long term.

Redeployment of staff

26. The posts abolished initially were already vacant or became vacant in a few cases through agreed transfers of staff to other posts. For the future phases, it will be necessary to reduce encumbered posts.

27. A preliminary planning exercise is currently underway to identify the posts which are likely to become redundant as a result of the transfers. Incumbents of professional posts which are earmarked for abolition will be referred to the Task Force on Redeployment in order to seek suitable alternatives taking into account their background, qualifications and professional experience.

28. The Regional Offices have been requested to prepare plans for redeployment of General Service staff to posts that are or may become vacant through attrition or agreed terminations, preferably within the MSU in view of the merger of operational responsibilities. In this process, both for professional and GS staff, consultations with the staff associations will continue to be held.

VI. The way forward

29. In recognition of the complexity of the decentralization of operational responsibilities, the CMT, under the Director-General's guidance, has instituted a gradual and careful approach to its implementation, making sure that at every step the conditions and prerequisites for a succesful passage of responsibilities are in place. However, it is recognized that there are risks inherent in any decentralization process (possible dispersion of responsibilities, lack of programme cohesion, coordination problems etc...) cannot be underestimated. The re-organization of the central department in charge of the field programme, the Technical Cooperation Department, and in particular the Field Operations Division (TCO) will aim at minimizing these risks by providing the necessary guidance, direction and monitoring to the field programme as a whole. Operational control mechanisms will also be reinforced.

30. A key phase of the process is the training that will take place during the month of September in the Regional Offices, culminating in the transfer of operational responsibilities to Group A countries. Based on this experience, and on the detailed study of the technical prerequisites being undertaken in autumn 2000, the timing of the transfers to Groups B and C will be re-examined.

31. Current plans are to concentrate the maximum number of transfers in the first four months of the year 2001. Only country offices in emergency or quasi-emergency situations or those in which IT and Communications infrastructure cannot be upgraded to a satisfactory level would remain to be transferred after that period. Transfers to those offices would take place only when the necessary conditions exist and ad-hoc arrangements would be made for training of FAORs and NPOs in those cases.

32. Such an approach has several advantages: increasing savings in the present biennium, reducing training costs and limiting the period of uncertainty for staff whose posts may become redundant.

VII. Conclusion

33. By benefitting from technological advances in the field of communications and with adequate resources and support, the FAORs should be in a position to discharge their new functions and improve the quality and performance of field operations.

34. The decentralization process matches the tendency of the main donors to involve in decision-making or even delegate responsibility for national project funding to their country offices. In this context, decentralization will foster the tripartite dialogue among partners (donor, recipient, FAO) which forms the basis of well-founded technical cooperation.

35. The purpose of this document is to keep the Programme and Finance Committees informed of progress in the decentralization of field operations to the existing country offices. While no specific decisions are sought, the views of the Committees on the process would be welcome and appreciated.