USAID to SIGAR: We care about oversight, too

Recent accusations by a federal inspector general that additional oversight was urgently needed for foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan did not sit well with officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID officials argue they’re on the same page with John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), when it comes ...

Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages

Recent accusations by a federal inspector general that additional oversight was urgently needed for foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan did not sit well with officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID officials argue they're on the same page with John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), when it comes to oversight concerns.

In his April quarterly report to Congress, Sopko's office frequently praises USAID's oversight efforts. But they also note examples of past or potential future misuse of taxpayer funds, such as USAID providing $179 million in funds for the 2014 elections, even though no new Afghan election laws have passed to thwart fraud. One SIGAR audit found USAID approved plans for two hospitals that could cost $18 million without ensuring future funding or that Afghans could sustain them with staffing.

Recent accusations by a federal inspector general that additional oversight was urgently needed for foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan did not sit well with officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID officials argue they’re on the same page with John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), when it comes to oversight concerns.

In his April quarterly report to Congress, Sopko’s office frequently praises USAID’s oversight efforts. But they also note examples of past or potential future misuse of taxpayer funds, such as USAID providing $179 million in funds for the 2014 elections, even though no new Afghan election laws have passed to thwart fraud. One SIGAR audit found USAID approved plans for two hospitals that could cost $18 million without ensuring future funding or that Afghans could sustain them with staffing.

In a speech this week, Sopko offered another example, arguing the Afghan electric company was not as capable as USAID had claimed. "SIGAR’s audit work says otherwise," he argued.

It may be a case of dueling perspectives between a watchdog looking for imperfections and a government agency tasked specifically with sending money into some of the most imperfectly governed places on earth.

USAID spokesman Ben Edwards emailed this statement from USAID, in response to Sopko:

"USAID has a stellar record of protecting U.S. tax dollars in Afghanistan.  We have 12 years of experience implementing programs and delivering results. USAID is committed to ensuring accountability for all taxpayer funded projects.  Before giving any on-budget [direct] assistance to the Afghan government, USAID assesses the capacity of the ministries involved to properly budget for and carry out the proposed projects.  USAID utilizes robust financial controls to monitor taxpayer funds and expected outcomes.

Indeed, Afghanistan has made dramatic development progress over the past decade, which would not be possible without the help of U.S. taxpayer funding designed to improve the government’s capacity to manage its own development and deliver goods and services to the Afghan people.  For example, assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health has dramatically expanded access to health care-resulting in an unprecedented increase in Afghan life expectancy of 15-20 years in a decade.

The U.S. development mission in Afghanistan is not without challenges, but is necessary in order to ensure Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists from which to attack the United States."

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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