Watchdog sounds alarm about $651M in Haiti aid

And panel Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he'd soon be sending a bipartisan delegation of committee staff to Haiti to prepare for a hearing on the “troubling findings.”

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Congress appropriated $1.14 billion in emergency aid to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left millions homeless. The GAO report, requested one year ago by the panel's then-chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), examined the $651 million handled by USAID.

The Obama administration said the tragedy was an opportunity to rebuild the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. That idea was pushed forcefully by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who honeymooned on the island four decades ago with Bill Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti.

“The development of the North represents a new day for Haiti,” Hillary Clinton said at the opening of the 600-acre Caracol Industrial Park eight months ago, “and a new model for how the international community practices development.”

The GAO report greatly tempers those expectations. 

It found that USAID had disbursed only about 31 percent of its funding — $204 million — as of March 31. Progress on the port that's supposed to support the Caracol park has been even slower, with only 6 percent spent so far because of planning delays, notably the failure to hire a port engineer.

“The USAID mission in Haiti lacks staff with technical expertise in planning, construction, and oversight of a port, as there is a vacant position for a port engineer on staff,” GAO concluded. “According to USAID officials, USAID has not constructed a port anywhere in the world since the 1970s, and USAID does not have a port engineer or port project manager among its direct-hire staff.”

USAID largely agreed with the GAO's recommendations and said it had made hiring a port engineer a priority.

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