GlobalPost reported recently on a new Office of the Inspector General review of Afghanistan. USAID takes heavy criticism in the document for poor management of large contracts, and GlobalPost brings in a range of Afghanistan and aid experts to comment on the report.
In general, the OIG report’s criticisms come down to one major factor: too much money is being managed by too few people. There is too much funding for Afghanistan right now and USAID just doesn’t have the staff to handle the contract oversight. That leaves a lot of room for fraud and bad management.
GlobalPost’s sources agree with the audit. Here’s one damning quote from an expert “We are sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent,” said one official knowledgeable of the USAID inspector general’s auditing process for the $9.4 billion obligated to Afghanistan in the last seven years…We end up not knowing where the money is going,”
This is ugly news when you consider just how long the US is committed to providing aid to Afghanistan. Being unable to do it well doesn’t mean we get to stop. And there’s no substantial hope on the horizon; USAID has promised to put another 300 foreign service officers in Afghanistan, but that’s not really enough people to resolve the kind of financial problems identified by the OIG.
In one respect, you have to respect the US government on this one. We’re in the middle of a high-profile effort to win hearts and minds in a drawn-out war and we still publish these kinds of brutal reports. Score one for American transparency, if not for our international development capacity.