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SIGIR: NDI and IRI money in Iraq misspent

How much money does it take to build a democracy? Well, the State Department’s  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) issued about $250 million over five years in grants toward that effort in Iraq, but the majority of that money actually went to security and overhead. Such was the finding of yet another ...

How much money does it take to build a democracy? Well, the State Department's  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) issued about $250 million over five years in grants toward that effort in Iraq, but the majority of that money actually went to security and overhead.

Such was the finding of yet another audit by the super-active Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), which issued a new report Tuesday looking at the use of grant funds given to the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

How much money does it take to build a democracy? Well, the State Department’s  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) issued about $250 million over five years in grants toward that effort in Iraq, but the majority of that money actually went to security and overhead.

Such was the finding of yet another audit by the super-active Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), which issued a new report Tuesday looking at the use of grant funds given to the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Only 41 percent of the $114 million doled out in the 7 DRL grants reviewed by SIGIR (there were 12 total) actually went to the programs. IRI’s money went heavily to security (57.2%) with only a little for overheard (6.4%), while NDI spent less on security (32.7%) but more on other indirect costs (16.9%).

Regardless, that too much waste, Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen told The Cable. "It’s certainly the highest overhead percentage we have seen," he said.

So who’s to blame, the State Department or the organizations? According to Bowen, both.

"The NGOs are responsible for it but the grants are managed by the State Department and they have a responsibility to do oversight as well," he said.

Well, did the percentage of money that was actually spent on democracy building at least achieve its objectives?

"DRL does not have documentation on whether the IRI and NDI grants are meeting their goals and whether the grant money is being used in the most effective and efficient manner," the report states.

Oy vey. It seems that NDI and IRI had such documentation but DRL just never asked them for it.

In fairness, DRL wasn’t in charge of the grant contracts when they were awarded, but Congress did tell the bureau to watch over the programs. That’s made tougher by the fact that DRL is managing the contracts from Washington and doesn’t require the same type of reporting details as with other contracts, which might help them get a handle on this.

In its response, DRL concurred with most of SIGIR’s recommendations and promised to consider having someone actually in Iraq to watch over the money. They didn’t agree it was necessary to go back and amend the grant contracts already signed to require more extensive reporting.

In a lengthy statement put out by IRI, the organization defended its accomplishments in Iraq and also defended its use of funds for security.

"No specific dollar amount was ever given to IRI as the maximum allowable expenditure for security.  Within the context of the conflict in Iraq, IRI’s security costs are comparatively in line with, or lower than other entities," the statement said.

Requests for comment from NDI were not answered.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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