Despite waiver, reviews find U.S. money at risk
By Guy Taylor
WASHINGTON D.C. – In internal government documents top officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development repeatedly cited former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a policy to waive restrictions on who could receive U.S. aid in Afghanistan, resulting in millions of dollars in U.S. funds going directly into the coffers of Afghan ministries known to be rife with corruption.
References to Mrs. Clinton’s role in the policy first appeared in a November 2012 USAID action memo, which outlined how U.S. officials made a “strategic foreign-assistance decision” two years earlier to provide “at least 50 percent of U.S. Government assistance directly to the” Afghan government.
The decision was “reaffirmed by Secretary of State Clinton” in July 2010, according to the memo, which highlighted her actions as justification for why USAID should waive an internal policy that otherwise would have required the agency to first assess the risk that such “direct assistance” might be lost to fraud, waste or outright theft.
Copies of the confidential assessments were obtained and first reported on last week by The Washington Times, which exposed how USAID’s own auditors found the risk of mismanagement, fraud and waste to be “critical” at nearly all the Afghan Cabinet ministries receiving the money.
Mrs. Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.
But current senior officials at the State Department, which oversees USAID’s activities, dismissed the notion that the reference to her in the agency’s 2012 action memo was anything other than routine.
“It’s absurd to claim that her name being mentioned in this memo is anything but the everyday work of a bureaucracy of which she was the leader,” said Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman.
The memo was sent through the office of J. Alexander Thier, who at the time was assistant USAID administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs. It was overlooked by news media when a copy appeared in a January 2014 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
‘Standard bureaucratic memo’
Ms. Harf told The Times on Friday that she was not surprised reporters ignored the document.
“It’s not exactly breaking news that the name of the nation’s top diplomat would be mentioned in a standard bureaucratic memo describing our assistance strategy in Afghanistan — a strategy she helped initiate and which has been reaffirmed multiple times at multiple levels from the President on down,” Ms. Harf said. “It’s also a strategy we continue to proudly implement with very positive results.”
USAID officials argue that despite the waiver of certain internal policies, the agency has maintained intense scrutiny over the money it releases to the Afghan government. The total amount ever delivered by USAID via the direct assistance program, the officials said, is not in the billions, but just $285 million spread across several Afghan ministries.
One USAID official, who spoke with The Times on the condition of anonymity, said the reason the figure was not considerably higher rested specifically on concerns at the agency over widespread fraud and corruption in the Afghan ministries.