OK, I have to say that it's amazing to wake up in the morning, open the paper to read about how screwed up USAID is, and then read that they are feeling "bullied" into supporting military efforts in Afghanistan. First of all, who cares what they are feeling? I only bring this point up because in my experience, it's not uncommon to hear from USAID staff objections like this (in country) as if they are somehow valid and reasonable perspectives to be discussing in the middle of an armed conflict. Logically, how can you respond to this kind of statement? "Wow, sorry you feel bullied, shall we stop the war and have some apple tea and investigate those feelings?" "Tell me more about it? What in your childhood would bring this feeling up?" I know i am sounding snarky, but I absolutely cannot understand this institutional stance and culture. And it was constantly used in Afghanistan. Sorry, we can't make a decision on how to fund this MOST CRITICAL sub-national development program because we are considering how mean the military is. I actually sat in a meeting at the U.S. embassy where the senior leader spent 55 minutes in discourse about how awful it was that he didn't know the phone numbers of all the (5? or 7?) military people who were working in Afghan ministries. All he had to do was ask for a list and we would have provided it. Next topic! Like, I dunno, how to fund that most critical program?
I worked on a program called the District Delivery Program, which was really a pretty well-thought out program. It took USAID more than 3 months to review a 20-page document outlining costs that they had themselves helped to prepare and approve it. Three months is like an eternity in Afghanistan. Especially when we are going to experience a draw down soon. It was the oddest experience I have ever had. The people were great--smart, dedicated and diligent, but just nearly completely ineffective.
USAID has fielded all kinds of people into remote areas of Afghanistan with little strategy and/or supervision as well. That's part of the much-trumpted "civilian surge". They are bureacratically not set up to deal with what is going on in Afghanistan and they seem to be making no real attempts to amend their internal processes to the context. Probably because they are feeling bullied.
I know in one province that USAID was funding more than 50 programs and that NOBODY checked on those programs on a routine and systematic fashion. They didn't have the staff, the mobility, or the responsibility. That's your tax dollars hard at work. USAID routinely use the self-reported data from their contractors as their evaluation of their contracts. So for example, in the Post you can read that the primary contractor claims his program a huge success because he hired X,000 of hours of Afghans to clean their own canals. Really? Did anyone go check? I mean, if you ask me if my efforts were successful, and make award of my next pay check contingent on my own response, then yes, I can tell you that the work I do is probably the most valuable in the world, let me just think of how to describe it to you.
Here's the article in the Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-military-dismayed-by-delays-in-3-key-development-projects-in-afghanistan/2011/04/22/AFD6jq8E_story.html?hpid=z2
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