When it comes to practicing transparency, the U.S. Agency for International Development seems to be struggling, an aid expert suggests.
It took Till Bruckner, former Transparency International Georgia aid monitoring coordinator, 14 months and a Freedom of Information request to obtain copies of USAID documents covering project budgets of 19 United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and private contractors.
“The documents are disappointingly full of blacked-out non-information. The level of disclosure varies drastically from one document to the next. Some budgets are provided in full, while others appear as blacked-out row upon row. In three cases, USAID even withheld the identity of the contractor itself,” Bruckner writes in a blog published by “Aid Watch.”
USAID said it was legally bound to contact each grantee to give it “the opportunity to address how the disclosure of their information could reasonably be expected to cause substantial competitive harm,” Bruckner shares.
“I wondered why USAID is legally bound to follow its grantees’ wishes in deciding which information to withhold. Can the grantees of a US federal agency really compel that agency to keep the total amount disbursed, or even their very identities, secret? Why doesn’t USAID specify full disclosure as a grant condition?” he asks.
Bruckner reveals he already filed an appeal with USAID to address his concerns and will update “Aid Watch” readers about the outcome of that request.
“Since according to USAID every piece of blacked-out information was withheld on request of the grantee, the budgets provide a fascinating glimpse into aid agencies’ willingness to open their books. If USAID blackouts do NOT correspond to NGO requests, I would be happy to correct the record,” he says.
Bruckner adds that USAID’s mechanism in responding to Freedom of Information requests “desperately needs an overhaul.”