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Democracy Commotion
USAID Shows Commitment to Democracy by Covering Up Failures

It’s long been clear that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s “pro-democracy” spending in many countries in the wider Middle East has been a boondoggle and a flop. Now it turns out that the agency’s acting Inspector General tried to cover that failure up. The Washington Post has an in-depth investigation into twelve different audits conducted by the USAID Inspector General’s office into the performance of USAID. The investigation found that in those twelve audits alone, over 400 “negative references” to program failures or inefficiencies were removed between initial drafts and the final reports.

Here’s an example of one case, about a 2012 audit of a program designed to reduce the fraud and waste associated with U.S. aid to Pakistan:

One key section of the audit was titled “Program Is Not Being Efficiently or Effectively Implemented.” The section detailed how the USAID mission office in Pakistan increased spending on the project, even though there were few or no reports documenting whether the program was working.

Those findings and that section were removed from the draft report, along with other negative findings, and placed in a confidential management letter. A finding that the auditors were not provided with detailed records of the spending was also placed in the management letter. It was sent to the USAID mission director in Pakistan on Sept. 30, 2012 — the day the final audit was publicly released by the inspector general’s office.

Another massive failure uncovered by the Post relates to “bail” that was paid to free sixteen Americans who were arrested by the Egyptian government for doing NGO work in the country without proper authorization. A draft report on the money used to bring them home expressed concerns both about the way the payments were made and with the precedent set by paying the bail. Those sections were removed from the final report as well.

The U.S. is not nearly as good at encouraging democracy in developing countries as the democracy promotion consultants would like you to think. Using U.S. money to try to change the politics of other countries raises a lot of questions, and USAID doesn’t have good answers for most of them.

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  • Andrew Allison

    This report confirms my own experience, namely that the IGs are as subject to the “capture” by the agencies they are supposed to oversee as are, e.g., bank regulators. The Inspectors General should be independent of the agencies.

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