Last July, in a stirring and rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a bill dedicated to increasing transparency and accountability around the billions of dollars of U.S. government funds allocated to assistance to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  On August 8, President Obama signed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act and the clock began ticking down for the State Department to produce the first of several comprehensive reports detailing the government’s assistance efforts, as mandated by the new law.

Assessing Progress instructed the State Department to complete a first report by the end of 2014.  While it’s not clear that that deadline was met, the Department’s Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator posted their report on their web page by the time the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake rolled around on January 12.

The reporting requirements outlined in Assessing Progress are far-reaching and fairly concrete.  It’s therefore not surprising that the report is truly massive in size, consisting of a general report on the results of U.S. assistance to Haiti and 17 attachments, many of which are PDFs of spreadsheets containing detailed quantitative and qualitative information about U.S. aid programs.

The question is: Is all of this information useful to those seeking an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Where did the money go?”  The answer is undoubtedly yes, but it doesn’t take more than a rapid survey of the report to see that the information provided is, in many cases, incomplete.  Furthermore, there are instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.

We’re not going to attempt a thorough analysis of this report at this time.  A rigorous and complete assessment requires considerable input from stakeholders, in particular those on the ground in Haiti.  For now we’ll share a few general observations regarding the report’s contents, highlighting what we see as the good, the bad and the murky.

Let’s start with one of the good things. For years now, CEPR and other groups have been trying to uncover where U.S. assistance funds have been going [PDF] after they are channeled to USAID’s primary implementing partners.  To begin answering that question one needs to know who are the “subprime” agents, - i.e., what companies and organizations these primary partners are contracting with - but despite innumerable direct queries to USAID and Freedom of Information Act requests, it was previously impossible to access this information. 

Attachment B of the State Department’s report contains a long-concealed treasure trove of data that includes the names of hundreds of subprime level partners involved in executing USAID projects, along with the exact amounts disbursed to these partners.  While further digging is still required in order to extract useful information – for instance, regarding the nationalities and specific operations of the subprime partners – the Attachment provides a lot of key information for researchers to work with.

So, what exactly is covered in Attachment B? It lists 217 prime awardees, broken down by sector (Health & Disabilities, Health, Food Security, Multi-Sector, Governance & Rule of Law, Economic Security, Energy, Education, Shelter, Ports) and by specific project. Each entry also includes a brief description of the project. Overall, the report shows that USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State/Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs have committed $2,078,594,265, obligated $1,574,840,952 and that contractors and grantees have actually disbursed $1,243,119,413. The total reported amount that has gone to subcontractors is $252,828,953. The State Department earlier reported that $84 million went to local subcontractors, though there is no way to confirm that with the data provided.

It’s important to emphasize that the data provided in Attachment B allows for only a partial assessment of USAID’s current and recent programs in Haiti. There is no information on benchmarks or results of specific programs, making an assessment of their respective successes or failures impossible without considerable follow-up on the ground. Furthermore, with no specific contract or grant numbers provided, comparing this list with other publically available data, such as on USASpending.gov, remains a highly complex task.

Still, Attachment B of the report is a milestone in the fight for accountability and transparency around U.S. assistance, not just assistance to Haiti but U.S. assistance more generally.  For many years, USAID and State would only provide subprime data on a piecemeal basis.  Now – and for the next three years – USAID is legally obliged to provide this information for their work in Haiti.  As a result, the U.S. government is now offering an example of aid transparency, one that it can hopefully be persuaded to implement for all of its foreign assistance programs. 

But there is much more in this report that is worth commenting on, even if only briefly.  So, stay posted for more analysis of the first Assessing Progress report in the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog.