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Another task for Crocker: Fix relations between embassy and USAID

Ambassador Ryan Crocker was sworn in today as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. One of his first tasks in his new job will be to repair the dysfunctional relationship between U.S. diplomats in Kabul and Afghanistan-based USAID officials, which has hampered U.S. development assistance in the country. The Kabul embassy — which Crocker as interim charge ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Ambassador Ryan Crocker was sworn in today as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. One of his first tasks in his new job will be to repair the dysfunctional relationship between U.S. diplomats in Kabul and Afghanistan-based USAID officials, which has hampered U.S. development assistance in the country.

The Kabul embassy -- which Crocker as interim charge d'affaires was tasked with reopening in January 2002 after the fall of the Taliban -- has an office to manage all development projects in Afghanistan called the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs (CDDEA). The office was meant to oversee USAID's efforts in the country, but according to a recent report by the State Department Inspector General's office, the relationship has suffered from bureaucratic and communications issues between aid workers and diplomats.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker was sworn in today as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. One of his first tasks in his new job will be to repair the dysfunctional relationship between U.S. diplomats in Kabul and Afghanistan-based USAID officials, which has hampered U.S. development assistance in the country.

The Kabul embassy — which Crocker as interim charge d’affaires was tasked with reopening in January 2002 after the fall of the Taliban — has an office to manage all development projects in Afghanistan called the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs (CDDEA). The office was meant to oversee USAID’s efforts in the country, but according to a recent report by the State Department Inspector General’s office, the relationship has suffered from bureaucratic and communications issues between aid workers and diplomats.

The report found that the problems between the embassy and USAID in Kabul stem in part from the State Department’s idea that chiefs of mission should be in charge of all development issues in their country, as envisioned by the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that State released earlier this year.

"CDDEA’s oversight of USAID in Kabul has highlighted differences in bureaucratic culture that exist between the Department and USAID at missions throughout the world," the report stated. "Although the QDDR envisions chiefs of mission as the ‘chief executive officer’ of a multi-agency organization, this remains a work in progress and unresolved questions remain about their roles, authorities, and oversight responsibilities for assistance programs largely implemented by other agencies."

The report went on to say that bureaucratic differences "exacerbate feelings of professional misunderstanding" between CDDEA and USAID, and that officials in Washington need to step in to impose a resolution to these problems.

The IG said that Crocker should work with the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Marc Grossman, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, and the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance to explain to USAID exactly how they should work with the embassy.

USAID personnel in Kabul chafe at the embassy’s demands for lots of briefings and explanations of their financial management. They also feel like second-class citizens because the embassy doesn’t provide them with the best housing and office space, the report said.

On the other hand, the embassy folks don’t believe the USAID personnel are on board with the "whole of government" approach, the report states. They think USAID withholds information from them and sometimes creates political messes they are then forced to clean up.

The USAID mission has responsibility for a large portion what will reportedly be over $71 billion of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan by the end of 2011, making it a significant player in the largest U.S. development mission in the world.

It’s been a rough few weeks for the USAID mission in Afghanistan. A report last week by the Government Accountability Office found that USAID is failing to properly oversee aid dollars.

"Direct assistance to the Afghan government involves considerable risk given the extent of corruption, the weak institutional capacity of the Afghan government to manage finances, the volatile and high-threat security environment, and that the U.S. funds may be obligated months or years after they are awarded," the report said. "Although risk assessment is a key component of internal controls, current USAID policy does not require preaward risk assessments of all Afghan government recipients of U.S. direct assistance funds."

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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