Who is responsible for USAID transparency?

A debate has ensued online after Till Brucker’s guest post on the Aid Watch blog on NGO transparency in Georgia. After having asked USAID to release budget details of NGOs operating in Georgia, he was sent the information (18 months later) with varying costs and totals blacked out.

Who were these details withheld by? USAID told Till Bruckner that they were “legally required to contact each grantee to give it ‘the opportunity to address how the disclosure of their information could reasonably be expected to cause substantial harm’”. From this he inferred that the information was blacked out or left exposed at the request of each respective NGO.

When he stated as such in his Aid Watch post, World Vision responded, stating that they had “checked thoroughly with all of its relevant offices and found no record of having received notification of this FOIA request by USAID or any evidence that WV asked USAID to redact information in the documents requested of USAID by Bruckner.  After contacting USAID officials, we learned that the redaction was made independently by the USAID FOIA office, not at the request of WV.”

On September 1st AidWatch posted its latest response from CARE, showing a similar breakdown in communication:CARE did not withhold information in response to his FOIA request to USAID regarding certain projects in the Republic of Georgia. Our records indicate that CARE never received the request from USAID to review CARE’s budget information before USAID provided it to Mr. Bruckner. USAID’s email request to CARE went to two inoperative emails; one was for a former employee and one went to a current employee, but the email address was incorrect.  As a result, the CARE document that USAID sent to Mr. Bruckner was redacted without CARE’s knowledge.”

The quest to assess the transparency of NGOs operating in Georgia has become even less illuminating then when it began. There are severe problems which need to be addressed with regards to the transparency of aid – including that of NGOs, USAID, and the process by which information is disclosed or withheld when requested. From all angles there needs to be increased, proactive transparency both of aid information, and the procedures which determine whether it will be disclosed.

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