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article imageOp-Ed: Critical comments removed from review of USAID work in Egypt

By Ken Hanly     Oct 24, 2014 in Politics
Washington - After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011, the US Agency for International Development(USAID) paid several nongovernmental organizations(NGOs) to begin pro-democracy programs even though they were not registered to work in Egypt.
In less than a year, Egypt charged 43 workers with operating in the country illegally. Sixteen of those charged were Americans. The son of then-U.S. transportation secretary Ray Lahood was one of those arrested. In March 2012 the US workers were freed but only after USAID secretly paid $4.6 million for "bail." As the Washington Post reports, just two months afterward the Office of the Inspector General(OIG) of AID did a confidential draft audit that brought into question the legality of the program and of the "bail" payment. However, when the IOG office issued its final audit five months afterwards, what had been originally a 21-page report was now just nine. The earlier questioning and criticism of the "bail" payment were gone along with other critical remarks.
In recent interviews, a number of current auditors and other employees anonymously complained about the censoring of audits between 2011 and 2013. While these negative comments were sent via "management letters" to senior USAID officials, the letters are confidential and not usually made available to the public. Some employees complained that the OIG whose function was to be an internal watchdog of the agency, had instead become a defender of it against any internal criticism. More than 400 negative references had been taken out of the draft audits before the final versions were released.
Under the acting inspector general Michael Carroll, some auditors complained that he did not want to create controversy during the period he was awaiting his confirmation as the permanent inspector general. His actions seem to have had the opposite effect. Carroll withdrew his nomination just last Wednesday after it had been pending for a year and four months. He declined to discuss why he made the decision.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psakii said on Thursday that the OIG's draft report on programs in Egypt contained "inaccuracies" that were cleared up during a meeting with OIG staff and Anne Patterson who was then US ambassador to Egypt. Psaki said that the bail money was paid by non-governmental organizations with money they received for the Egyptian programs. Psaki claims the role of the US government in the payment was revealed publicly in 2012. This hardly explains why criticism of the payment should have been removed from the report nor does it explain why the "bail" was a proper use of the NGO's funds.
Darren Roman an audit supervisor at the OIG who retired back in 2012 said: “The office is a watchdog not doing its job. It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’” A number of auditors and other employers felt that their authority had been undermined by the changes made in drafts that were critical of the organization. According to Jen Psaki it is standard practice for government officials to meet with OIG officials prior to a report being issued. Perhaps it is government pressure that also intervenes to remove negative comments. As shown by the appended video USAID programs often are intended to promote US government agendas while appearing to be independent NGO's. As in Egypt this can sometimes land NGO employees in hot water in host countries.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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