Lawmakers tear into Clinton-led reconstruction effort in Haiti

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a senior Republican on the committee who requested the Government Accountability Office report, said she was “shocked” and “deeply disappointed” by its findings. The GAO found that USAID has pared down its homebuilding projections from 15,000 to about 3,000 and is two years behind schedule in building a port to serve a new industrial park.

“We now know that the Haitian government prevailed upon U.S. officials to build bigger and better housing. The problem, of course, is that this benefitted a much smaller pool of people,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee. “Even though this represented a dramatic change in the terms of reference for the expenditure of these funds, Congress was not consulted about the decision. Had we been consulted, would we have gone ahead with that plan?”


And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said he was outraged after finding out that the land the homes are being built on will be controlled by the Haitian government. 

“It sounds like you've set up another scenario of corruption,” Rohrabacher said.

Not all lawmakers were critical.

Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) pointed out that USAID cut back its homebuilding projections after the Haitian government urged that the size of the homes be increased from 275 square feet to 450 square feet and that they have flush toilets. The GAO report raised concerns that Haiti's limited wastewater treatment system could handle the increase.

“Somehow the scandal is you're going to build a house that's the size of a U.S. suburban garage?” Vargas asked.

The reconstruction has been a personal priority for Clinton, who honeymooned in Haiti in 1975 and attended the opening ceremony for the Caracol Industrial Park, which the State Department hopes would eventually create 65,000 jobs. Former President Clinton, meanwhile, served as the U.N. special envoy for Haiti. 

The State Department acknowledged shortcomings, but said progress is being made. The number of displaced people has shrunk to 280,000, and USAID has helped build a 10-Megawatt power station that powers the industrial park and the surrounding area.

“To be frank,” testified Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams, “we all, Haitians and Americans both, hoped we would be farther along by now.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill