July 25, 2014
Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460
Congress Passes “Assessing Progress in Haiti Act” to Enact Greater Oversight of USAID in Haiti
Washington, D.C.- New legislation passed by Congress to provide increased oversight of USAID activities in Haiti will be “a significant step in the right direction,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), passed the House by unanimous consent today. A first version of the bill was approved by the House in December 2013 and the Senate approved a modified version, introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), that was passed by voice vote on July 10 of this year. The bill will require that USAID and other agencies regularly report to Congress regarding the benchmarks, strategies and contracting for post-earthquake aid activities in Haiti, including efforts aimed at treating and eradicating the cholera epidemic that has killed over 8,550 people and sickened over 700,000.
“This bill could go a long way toward correcting some of the problems with government transparency and effectiveness in the Haiti relief effort that we documented in our report ‘Breaking Open the Black Box,’” Weisbrot said. “It is a step in the right direction if U.S. taxpayer dollars are to be used in a way that will benefit the people of Haiti instead of merely lining contractors’ pockets.
“66.2 percent of USAID contracts has gone to Beltway-based firms, while just 1.5 percent has gone to Haitian companies,” Weisbrot added. “There is something terribly wrong with this picture.”
The bill requires that Congress receive annual progress reports “on the status of post-earthquake recovery and development efforts in Haiti, including efforts to prevent the spread of cholera and treat persons infected with the disease.” The bill mandates that agencies detail how the Haitian government and target constituencies, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and farmers, are involved in the coordination of the aid process and how they are being impacted.
Importantly, the bill will also require more reporting regarding sub-grants. CEPR’s 2013 report, “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti” by Jake Johnston and Alexander Main detailed how funds designated for Haiti end up going to sub-contractors who are often not identified, and who are not held accountable for what they do with the money. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act will require the State Department to provide data on U.S. Haiti assistance funds disbursed at both the prime and subprime levels in line with one of the CEPR report’s main recommendations.
Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.
Alexander Main, co-author of “Breaking Open the Black Box” said, “For years Haitian citizens, U.S. members of Congress and concerned U.S. citizens have noted the lack of progress in international relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti and asked ‘where has the money gone?’ This legislation should help provide us with a much more detailed picture of how U.S. taxpayer money is being used in Haiti by USAID and the big private contractors that implement assistance programs.”