A few weeks ago USAID Director Rajiv Shah testified before Congress that if H.R. 1, the House of Representatives’ budget, were made law, Congress would have blood on its hands. Such accusatory rhetoric sits uncomfortably by Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Washington Post article that chronicles delay and waste in USAID programs in Afghanistan.
Assistance in Afghanistan is a crucial part of the “whole of government operations” we are said to be conducting to win the war in Afghanistan. Our strategy depends fundamentally on support by Afghans for our war aims: our military fights to clear an area of Taliban, diplomats and development specialists move in to establish governance and agriculture programs to show Afghans the benefits of working with us. The article quotes a senior military commander complaining “our flank is exposed” by USAID not implementing programs essential to consolidating the gains won by the sacrifices of our soldiers and Marines.
Staff turnover at USAID in Afghanistan is 85% per year, policy priorities have not been established and AID leadership is described as having an ongoing institutional debate over the balance between short and long-term development projects. Project managers are also still awaiting disbursement of funds from 2010, because the Secretary of State is required to certify the Afghan government is making progress on women’s rights -- the Secretary’s signature concern -- and fighting corruption, yet she has not made last year’s certification.
AID was given $2,755,671,228 to spend in Afghanistan last year, and has spent it poorly, as the article discouragingly details. The State Department and advocates of “leading through civilian power” complain about the migration of responsibilities to the Pentagon, but that occurs because State and USAID fail to do their jobs. Military commanders in Afghanistan are requesting National Guard personnel who are farmers because “the civilians had promised they would do certain things, and we expected them to follow through...now we’ve realized that we can’t depend on them, so we have to do it on our own.”
USAID’s Afghanistan program director is left arguing they have learned their lesson from this “first generation” of grants and will improve. That is a pathetic defense in year eight of “whole of government operations” in Afghanistan. Adding insult to injury, the article notes “USAID officials authorized to speak for the agency said they were unable to answer most questions on the record.”
At a time when USAID is asking American taxpayers to borrow 43 cents of every dollar we spend on foreign assistance, they need to perform an awful lot better than they have in Afghanistan to justify the money we are giving them.
(photo credit: USAID)