The news that the U.S. Agency for International Development has suspended the International Relief and Development from winning new business reached the contractor’s employees through email. Photo by: Simon Stratford

The sobering news came via email: Employees of International Relief and Development learned on Monday that their biggest donor had suspended the U.S. nonprofit from winning new business — shortly after IRD leaders got notice from their partners in government.

The “indefinite” suspension of IRD has since become talk of the town in Washington’s tight-knit aid community. And while there wasn’t a sense of surprise given several ongoing investigations into the work of the leading U.S. nonprofit contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, the announcement served as an ominous reminder of the U.S. government’s intensifying clampdown on fraud, waste and abuse in international development cooperation.

Staff learned “as soon as” IRD leaders got notice from the U.S. Agency for International Development, John Engels, the nonprofit’s communications director, told Devex Tuesday. The news was shared via email because many of IRD’s approximately 2,200 employees work in the field.

No staffing changes were announced, according to Engels, who said he was “unaware” of any plans to shift or cut staff.

IRD employees, Engels suggested, are disappointed but also committed to doing the best they can to complete ongoing projects and — “hopefully” — continue working for IRD once the suspension is lifted.

"We intend to get the suspension lifted," he said, noting that he had no indication on when that may happen.

In late 2010, another leading USAID contractor — AED — received a similar suspension; shortly thereafter, its board decided to sell all of the company’s assets and transfer its programs to the successful buyer. AED is now part of FHI 360.

The next step for IRD, Engels said, will be to submit a “plan” to USAID that addresses the agency’s concerns about “serious misconduct in IRD's performance, management, internal controls and present responsibility.”

In a statement released Monday night, President and CEO Roger Ervin suggested that IRD had already begun to address some of USAID’s concerns over the past nine months. Engels would not elaborate on which concerns had been addressed already and which ones were immediate priorities now.

Staff will be kept in the loop, though, he suggested.

IRD is cooperating “fully” with USAID, Ervin said Monday. Engels said he could not comment on separate investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Ervin will lead the change process. He joined IRD in December after its co-founder, Arthur Keys, retired — a move that has been widely interpreted as a way to mitigate further damage.

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    Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.

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