Congresswoman Lee Re-Introduces Bill to “Assess Progress” of U.S. Haiti Assistance

May 01, 2013

On April 25th, Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced H.R. 1749, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a detailed and comprehensive report on U.S. aid programs to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  The bill, which has 24 original co-sponsors, reflects the growing concern in Congress about the lack of tangible progress in U.S. post-quake relief and reconstruction efforts, and the lack of transparency around how U.S. aid money is being used.

An earlier version of this bill was passed in the House of Representatives in May of 2011 and later was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but never made it to a vote on the Senate floor.  The legislation has been significantly revised and, whereas the old bill (which can be viewed here) had general reporting requirements, the new bill (which can be viewed here) has very specific and probing reporting language that should help shed light on how USAID funds are being used on the ground in Haiti.  Among other things, the legislation calls for:

·         An assessment of the “amounts obligated and expended on United States Government programs and activities since January 2010 (…) including award data [read: financial data] on the use of implementing partners at both prime and subprime levels, and disbursement data from prime and subprime implementing partners.”

·         A description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals…”

·         An “assessment of the manner in which the Department of State and USAID are working with Haitian ministries and local authorities, including the extent to which the Government of Haiti has been consulted on the establishment of goals and timeframes and on the design and implementation of new programs…”

·         An “assessment of how consideration for vulnerable populations, including IDPs (Internally Displaced Populations), women, children, orphans, and persons with disabilities, have been incorporated in the design and implementation of new programs and infrastructure”

·         An “assessment of how agriculture and infrastructure programs are impacting food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Haiti”

Last month CEPR published a report titled “Breaking Open the Black Box” describing the lack of transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti, particularly at the contracting level, and recommended USAID reporting requirements similar to those found in H.R.1749.  The report noted that the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Haiti has been questioned by the GAO, the USAID Inspector General and other government watchdogs. 

At a mid-April congressional hearing on the U.S. Department of State FY 2014 budget, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about Haiti by Congresswoman Barbara Lee. In her question, Rep. Lee mentioned that she will be introducing legislation to promote U.S. aid transparency and accountability:

REP. LEE: And finally, just with regard to Haiti, you know, many of us are concerned about the lack of tangible results for vulnerable communities in Haiti after billions were pledged in the wake of the 2010 tragic earthquake. We’ve been calling for greater transparency and accountability, and of course I have legislation that I’m introducing once again to call on the State Department to really let us know how this money has been spent.

And so I wanted to know if there was any way administratively, because you know sometimes this legislative process can be very cumbersome — but if you can administratively figure out a way to let us know how the money is being spent. It’s my understanding that just over 50 percent of the funds made available for Haiti reconstruction through fiscal year 2012 have been dispersed — only 50 percent. And given the overwhelming needs of the country, why haven’t we moved faster or why haven’t they moved faster?

As Kerry was in fact a co-sponsor of the Assessing Progress in Haiti bill while a Senator, his position as Secretary of State could help bolster support for the forthcoming reintroduction of the bill.  Kerry’s response to Lee, however, was ambivalent and vague:

SEC. KERRY: Well, on Haiti — let me begin with Haiti. I think — as you know, the administration put a lot of effort into Haiti in the last four years — a lot of money, a lot of effort — the Clinton Global Initiative, President Clinton himself, others — and Secretary Clinton put enormous focus on it. Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills personally was shepherding it, et cetera — still is helping us, actually. She’s doing that part time right now.

And you know, the great complication that I have observed — I’m not doing a general policy thing here — but I think is just capacity to absorb; governance combined with sort of sustainability issues that are very challenging there. And then — and also a lack of coordinated approach. I think more than anything, if I had to find a thing to say to you has been a challenge, it’s how to coordinate. It’s not lack of effort. It’s just very, very difficult.

So you asked the question. I think that’s been the hardest thing to achieve.

We’re going to stay at it. You know, it’s vital to us in lots of ways. I had — I represented — I had the privilege of representing a huge Haitian community up in Boston and I know after the earthquake we gathered that very night and we — you know, we talked about how we’d try to make this go-around different in terms of the aid and the focus and attention.

I probably need — you know, you’ve jogged my needs on this, and I probably need to get the team together and sort of take stock of exactly what our broader judgment is, comparing it with all the agencies involved and maybe get back to you even further. But that’s my quick take on it.

Kerry might be pleased to know that his concern about “a lack of coordinated approach” in Haiti is addressed in Lee’s bill.  The legislation’s seventh reporting requirement calls for “an assessment of recovery and development coordination among United States Government agencies and between the United States Government and other donors.”

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