State Department's direct aid push slammed in wake of Afghan corruption

Chaffetz made the remarks during an oversight hearing on U.S. foreign aid. John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, testified that 73 recommendations to improve planning and quality assurance and cut back on corruption could save the U.S. government $450 million.

“It is clear to me that direct assistance must be accompanied by strict mechanisms, established by the United States and international donors, to protect funds and provide vigorous oversight in order to ensure that the monies given to the Afghan ministries go to the most qualified contractors and not to the corrupt cronies of politicians in Afghanistan,” Sopko said. 

He said the U.S. government should track not just outcomes but also demand “unfettered and timely access to the books, employees, records and most importantly to the projects and programs financed by U.S. assistance.”

USAID unveiled a report last month showing a 50 percent increase since 2010 in the amount of aid provided directly to foreign nations and local institutions. The agency is about halfway toward its five-year goal of having 30 percent of its funding support local institutions, Administrator Rajiv Shah said. 

USAID defended the shift on Wednesday.

“USAID has helped Afghanistan make dramatic development progress over the past decade,” said Alex Thier, assistant to the administrator for the office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs. “That progress would not be possible without the Afghan government’s improved capacity to manage development projects and deliver goods and services to the Afghan people.”

Those efforts include helping the Afghan Ministry of Public Health increase Afghan life expectancy by 15-20 years in a decade.

“To further improve the Afghan government’s capacity to take leadership over their development priorities, USAID is increasingly providing direct budget support through the Afghan ministries that possess the ability to manage USAID funds effectively,” Thier said. “USAID conducts rigorous assessments of all ministries that receive USAID funds. Only the ministries that demonstrate an ability to effectively manage development aid are eligible. If the assessments identify vulnerabilities, USAID helps the ministry address the issues before they are eligible to receive funds. These measures are in addition to USAID’s standard practice of conducting audits, monitoring progress, and evaluating results.”