USAID’s Afghan bureaucrat school offers crash-course in anti-corruption
As the Afghan government counts the votes cast during Saturday’s parliamentary elections, the United States is working hard to train the bureaucrats that will run the local and provincial governments that will be crucial to increasing the Afghan government’s credibility. The U.S. mission is based on the goal of handing over swaths of Afghanistan to ...
As the Afghan government counts the votes cast during Saturday's parliamentary elections, the United States is working hard to train the bureaucrats that will run the local and provincial governments that will be crucial to increasing the Afghan government's credibility.
As the Afghan government counts the votes cast during Saturday’s parliamentary elections, the United States is working hard to train the bureaucrats that will run the local and provincial governments that will be crucial to increasing the Afghan government’s credibility.
The U.S. mission is based on the goal of handing over swaths of Afghanistan to local governments, which would allow U.S. troops to leave the country. But corruption and mismanagement at all levels of Afghanistan’s government is the single largest obstacle to achieving an orderly transition to Afghan control and convincing local citizens to reject the Taliban.
After a series of high-profile spats with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the administration is shifting its anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan to include a greater focus on lower-level officials.
A significant part of this effort consists of a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program, which gives thousands of Afghan government officials a crash course on governing and anti-corruption techniques. After the program concludes, these officials are then sent out to form the foundation of Afghanistan’s civil service.
The U.S. government funds and supports the Afghan Civil Service Institute, the makeshift university in Kabul where bureaucrats are trained, through the Afghan Civil Service Support Program, which was launched last February. The institution, which is Afghan-run but U.S.-supported, has graduated 11,000 sub-national government officials and expects to reach a total of 16,000 by the end of the year. It teaches five basic bureaucratic functions: procurement, strategy and policy, human resources, project management, and finance.
"Getting people competent in a few basic skills… things that make a government function is so critically important," said Alex Thier, USAID’s director of the office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs in Washington. "You could have the best ministers, but if you don’t have anyone at the local level that is making sure that the ministries function, none of that stuff gets done."
Thier describes the program as a crucial aspect in the drive to establish the conditions that will eventually facilitate the departure of U.S. forces.
"If we’re talking about stability in Afghanistan and we’re talking about creating a minimally competent government, you have to have people with basic skills. After 30 years of civil war, you don’t have those people anymore," he said.
But finding competent candidates, and then convincing them to work for the Karzai government or its subsidiaries, is no easy task, said Thier.
"It is not exactly the greatest time in Afghan history to be a civil servant. The government officials are being targeted and it’s very difficult to serve in this environment."
The school has a specific curriculum for anti-corruption efforts, but the point of building up the Afghan civil service is so that better governance will reduce the opportunities for corruption altogether.
"Corruption is a very high priority and basic tools to allow for financial management and budget management are essential to that," said Thier.
The recently trained and deployed Afghan bureaucrats are facing their biggest test in the coming weeks. All 250 seats of the Afghanistan’s lower house, called the Wolesi Jirga, were up for grabs last weekend.
The election results aren’t expected to be final until the end of October — but don’t take that as a problem, a senior administration official said.
"So the election… will actually play out over a series of weeks. And we just want to make clear that that’s fully expected."
As for the integrity of the elections themselves, which is already under suspicion, the Obama administration’s position is that the ballot had better checks and balances protecting against fraud than the disputed 2009 presidential polls. Nevertheless, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which vets complaints, has a majority of Karzai-appointed commissioners, raising questions about its objectivity.
"Our sense is that both the [Independent Elections Commission] but also the complaints commission, the ECC, are in manning, leadership and process improvements over the 2009 version," the senior administration official said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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