IG calls Afghan aid plan “bad value” for taxpayers

A new report from a special inspector general who reviews U.S. spending in Afghanistan says a $200 million program to deal with political instability is a “bad value” for taxpayers, after investigators found it spent a quarter of its budget on “conferences, overhead and workshops” instead of issuing grants to Afghan communities.

“The audit found that after 16 months and $47 million spent, USAID had not met essential program objectives,” said the report of the Special Inspector General John Sopko, which noted “fatigue” from a high number of workshops.

“None of the funds spent had gone to grants that would fund projects to address instability as called for in the contracts, even though this was deemed the essential component to the program,” Sopko added.

Some of Sopko’s findings were disputed by USAID, which said the program had “been very successful and valued by the participants,” adding that some conclusions were “not supported by evidence” in the report.

You can read the full report – and the rebuttal by USAID here.

One interesting note – Sopko’s toughest words for the USAID program were found in an email to reporters, but not in the actual report – here is the email sent out with the report today:

 

Today, SIGAR released an audit highlighting concerns with USAID’s Stability in Key Areas Programs (SIKA), which was set up to address sources of instability in Afghan communities.

The audit found that after 16 months and $47 million spent, USAID had not met essential program objectives. None of the funds spent had gone to grants that would fund projects to address instability as called for in the contracts, even though this was deemed the essential component to the program. The $47 million was largely spent on workshops and training sessions resulting in community dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in implementing grants. Such disappointment may actually result in further destabilization and disaffection toward the Afghan government.

Quote from Special Inspector General John F. Sopko:

“It’s troubling that after 16 months, this program has not issued its first community grant. Rather, it has spent nearly $50 million — roughly a quarter of the total program budget — on conferences, overhead and workshops. This looks like bad value for U.S. taxpayers and the Afghan people.”