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A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.
By Lynda Boswell
The Special Inspector Generals (SIG) for both Iraq and Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGIR, SIGAR) provided lessons learned. They did address successful programs, with some sustainability, but not with the same ambition expected of the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction. In the lessons learned, much of the advisements were in regards to fiscal irresponsibility. It is unfortunate that both of these reports seem to be identical. Both cite the lack of experienced personnel in providing adequate oversight of funds, lack of internal controls and corruption. Yet a solution for the lessons learned appears to collect dust, and the same efforts will continue on future foreign aid in developing countries.
The United States has spent billions on the reconstruction efforts in both countries, yet little has been evident on the sustained use of those funds. On the contrary, both SIG documents the improbability of some of the reconstruction efforts to be sustained by the host nation. The host nations have declined to either take over projects through its budget cycle, or have stated that the improvements were not wanted.
The main entity held responsible for this lack of fiscal responsibility is our own U.S. government, through the Departments of Defense (DoD) and State (DoS). When foreign aid provides for rebuilding host nation governments, and the strategy is for that host nation to provide for transparency and accountability, we are hardly at a point in which they can follow our own example.
II. Recommendations by SIGIR and SIGAR
Although recommendations were provided by both the SIGIR and SIGAR throughout the reconstruction efforts, little was done to address those concerns or to prevent further irresponsibility. The main argument is that the amount of money unaccounted for, and the lack of sustainable projects for the money spent, is not acceptable. Policies and procedures were in place but not followed consistently. This lack of organizational leadership, ethics and responsibility fall on the shoulders of those who were required to provide oversight and accountability of not only the funds, but of the projects themselves.
III. Recommendations by author
A couple of recommendations include leadership that considers fiscal responsibility as a matter of ethics, and systems required to be implemented before a project is started. These recommendations are meant to be constructive and they are not difficult solutions. Lessons learned documents ways to prevent further corruption and fiscal irresponsibility in providing foreign aid.
As a matter of course, and in the field of public administration, it holds that we need to be good stewards of the public’s money, and it doesn’t matter if one is in a position of leadership, staffer, careerist, specialist, etc. When using the public money for programs, policies or construction, all must hold to the basic tenet of stewardship. It is not your money, and you don’t have the right to do with it as you please without accountability in place. Although some individuals and contractors have been prosecuted, it is not enough that the leadership of DoS/DoD individuals are not held accountable and continue to be employed or promoted to other agencies and projects.
Another recommendation is to have systems already in place that can start accounting for the programs. If a system is not ready, then perhaps it is not a good idea to start a program. System includes an electronic template ready to oversee the programs or one that begins with balances, scans for multiple items such as invoices, pictures, hand-written reports categorized and already organized. The U.S. is full of technology and technologically competent professionals. A system does not need to be complicated. If there is not enough staff that can provide for the oversight and simple tracking of the system, then it makes better sense not to implement the aid. Implementing without the foresight to understand how to account for the programs, policies or reconstruction is already destined to fail and I would daresay, begins the road to corruption and lack of accountability.
IV. Reasons to implement better systems for increased fiscal accountability
We’re in a tightened economy as debt continues to increase in the trillions. Although a few billion dollars may not be much cause for concern, we are encouraging a public administrative culture of deniability, finger pointing and lack of responsibility for the public’s funds. It is very easy to implement a system if one has the moral fortitude to use it consistently. The alternative is to take those billions and provide them elsewhere in the “reconstruction” of our own country. Of course, that would still require a good implementation system, even if it would be domestic.
The only responsibility we have to other nations is the minimal efforts we use for the very care we have toward funding them. If there is little accountability, then use little of the public funds in foreign aid. If we have not the personnel and experts to implement, then hire them or hold those responsible who refuse to comply with them.
All DoS and DoS contracts must have a clause of compliance and accountability. If the contractor or the staff does not comply with the directives to provide information necessary for standard fiscal compliance, then the contractor should be held liable. If that cannot happen, the responsibility, I would argue, should go back to DoS or DoD staff that oversaw the project.
It’s a total travesty that the same issues that relate to corruption are echoed year after year, quarter after quarter in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Very little has changed in the way DoS and DoD does business, thus the same issues keep popping up. The same results are also a constant: bad fiscal responsibility is rewarded, it’s ok that nothing changes and no one in authority can do anything about it.
The argument will always be that foreign aid is part of a greater good in foreign policy. However, it does not excuse any level of government, either the Departments of State or Defense, from having a solid level of accountability and stewardship of the public’s funds. Though one may argue that much of the contracts are carried out by non-public organizations and that they are not government staff, DoS and DoD are the stewards. If they find the non-government entities cannot comply with the basics of fiscal accountability, then funding needs to cease.
Further, we want to know that our efforts and trillions of dollars for both these wars/reconstruction efforts mean something to the average U.S. taxpayer. Instead, we get reports of funding corruption, increased illegal drug trade and illicit payments made that eventually find its way to those terrorists we meant to eradicate with our good intentions and honesty.
There are many citizens hurting from the effects of the economy, changes in government leadership and an uncertain future. The least we can do is to provide a public administration that appreciates their sacrifice for the benefit of other nations. We can do that by providing an environment of integrity and strong fiscal responsibility. DoS and DoD must take responsibility, and if they cannot perhaps we should not fund foreign aid until we know how to implement contracts properly, not just financially, but for a results-based host nation sustainability.
Lynda Boswell is an international monitoring and evaluation consultant having worked in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Boswell is a member of AMEPPA and is currently pursuing her PhD in Public Administration. She can be reached at [email protected].