Subcontracts and subawards are important ways that USAID projects can access specialized expertise and capabilities. While USAID does not have direct legal relationships with the organizations that support prime partners on its projects, the Agency recognizes that their contributions are central to achieving transformative development outcomes.
We wanted to know more about the actual experiences of subcontractors and subawardees (“subs”), so we reached out on January 24 to 416 organizations from the WorkwithUSAID.org Partner Directory that self-identified as subs. Of these, we received 51 valid responses to a set of 11 fact-finding questions. The purpose of our survey was to get a more nuanced picture of what’s working and what’s not in the implementation phase of the prime-sub relationship.
What did we discover? It’s complicated.
Overall, we were struck by the general positivity of the responses, with 84 percent of respondents indicating that their experience as a sub was a positive one. But written follow-up remarks made it clear that the sub experience is varied, highly context-specific, and dependent on the prime itself.
Other findings included that 72 percent of subs agreed that their experience as a sub helped their organization be more ready to apply for USAID prime opportunities. Eleven percent remained neutral and 16 percent disagreed.
On the more negative side, only 39 percent of respondents agreed that they felt like a “peer,” or equal, of their prime, while 34 percent disagreed, and 28 percent responded neutrally. Additionally, only a little over half (51 percent) of subs agreed that their organization is/was given credit for their contribution to the project, while 28 percent responded neutrally, and 22 percent disagreed.
These areas where negative opinions were more prevalent indicate potential “low-hanging fruit” for the Agency to address. For example, USAID can further encourage prime partners to be transparent and inclusive of subs in project design, implementation, and reporting. Chiefs of Party can and should set this expectation for their projects as well, a topic that we will explore in an upcoming blog post in this series.
This survey follows a broader survey about customer experience carried out by USAID and the Partnerships Incubator in July 2022. That survey collected feedback from the partner community on the resources they have used or could benefit from in the future. We know that by gathering data on these issues, we can find solutions to provide the support the partner community needs.
While the largely positive responses to our survey of subs are encouraging, we know that a single survey does not represent the full measure of the partner ecosystem. Drawing our pool of respondents from the Partner Directory may have affected the nature and types of responses we received. We also know that a continuum of experiences exists, based on the individual organizations involved. We are always open to hearing more as we approach this important issue with a spirit of optimism and innovative solutions.
If you have additional thoughts on the sub/prime relationship and ways that it can be improved, please contact USAID’s Industry Liaison at IndustryLiaison@usaid.gov.