Watchdog: US spent $760 million on Afghan schools without tracking progress

Watchdog: US spent $760 million on Afghan schools without tracking progress
© Getty Images

Three government agencies spent almost $760 million in taxpayer money to boost education in Afghanistan without knowing if their efforts were working, according to an inspector general report out Thursday.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department and the Pentagon “have not adequately assessed their efforts to support education in Afghanistan,” according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

ADVERTISEMENT

The three agencies have spent at least $759.6 million on 39 programs to support primary and secondary education in Afghanistan.

That breaks down to at least $141.7 million from the Defense Department from 2004 to 2014, $3.9 million from the State Department from 2011 to 2014 and $614 million from USAID from 2002 to 2014.

USAID had a long-term strategy for education in Afghanistan, but the State Department and Pentagon did not, according to the report.

The Pentagon told SIGAR its education efforts were meant to support its counterinsurgency mission, the report says. The State Department, meanwhile, told the inspector general it defers to USAID, but the report says the department didn’t specifically follow the agency’s strategy.

When tracking progress, the Pentagon mostly reported on USAID’s efforts, according to the report.

“According to DOD, because USAID is the lead U.S. agency for development, and because DOD did not have a specified education program, the … reports primarily highlighted USAID’s contribution to the education sector,” the report says. “We found that most discussions in these reports had little to do with DOD education-related efforts and were limited to USAID efforts to include outputs such as the numbers of teachers trained, schools constructed, textbooks printed, or activities such as capacity building.”

The State Department assessed programs individually, but did not evaluate how its education efforts affected the country overall, according to the report.

USAID likewise did not adequately track overall progress, according to the report, and relied on unverified Afghan government data in reports on progress.

“Without comprehensive assessments of the work performed in the education sector, USAID will be unable to determine the impact that the approximately $614 million it spent has had in improving Afghan education,” the report says.

In a written response included in the report, the Pentagon partially agreed with the report. While the Pentagon acknowledged the importance of tracking progress, it disagreed with SIGAR’s suggestion to separate evaluations of education from evaluations of a larger program called the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP).

“CERP-funded education projects were primarily small-scale, local projects undertaken by tactical commanders to meet urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs of the people within their area of operations,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Christine Abizaid wrote. “The CERP program was not an education ‘program’ intended to have ambitious goals for the education sector with nationwide impact.”

The State Department disagreed with the report’s recommendation to evaluate whether its education efforts led to overall improvement in the country, saying it believes its evaluations of individual programs are sufficient.

USAID agreed with the report’s findings, saying it’s in the process of reviewing how it reports on performance.

“Building the capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan government is a key component of our strategy,” acting mission director Art Brown wrote, “and providing access to quality education is an important way for the government to prove its worth to the Afghan people and a prerequisite for economic growth and stability.”