Monday, May 05, 2014

Big budgets, little oversight in war zones --- In 1998, an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ and his wife from the war-wrecked region of Bosnia-Herzegovina began a humble international humanitarian effort out of a modest office in downtown Washington. -- After the United States launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mom-and-pop nonprofit corporation boldly ramped up, undertaking some of the federal government’s biggest and most ambitious projects in the battle zones, everything from building roads to funding wheat production. -- In doing so, International Relief and Development increased its annual revenue from $1.2 million to $706 million, most of it from one corner of the federal government — the U.S. Agency for International Development. IRD has received more grants and cooperative agreements from USAID in recent years than any other nonprofit relief and development organization in the nation — $1.9 billion. -- Along the way, the nonprofit rewarded its employees with generous salaries and millions in bonuses. Among the beneficiaries: the minister, Arthur B. Keys, and his wife, Jasna Basaric-Keys, who together earned $4.4 million in salary and bonuses between 2008 and 2012. -- The story of IRD reflects the course of America’s ambitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which started with great enthusiasm and consumed tremendous resources, only to see many hopes go awry. Nation-building projects aimed at supplanting insurgents and securing the peace that looked promising on paper in Washington proved to be difficult to execute in dangerous and unpredictable war zones. -- In Baghdad and Kabul, companies such as IRD were left to manage hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer-funded programs with little meaningful oversight from USAID, according to interviews with government auditors and former IRD employees familiar with the projects. -- The nonprofit organization, in turn, has hired at least 19 employees from USAID, the lead government agency for addressing poverty and supporting democracy worldwide. Several of them came directly from their desks at the agency to occupy important posts at the company. -- Some of those employees, including the former acting administrator of USAID, received substantial pay raises by crossing the Potomac and joining IRD at its new offices in Arlington, Va., collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual salaries, bonuses and other compensation. -- In the world of humanitarian NGOs — nongovernmental organizations — those kinds of salaries are unusual. Rarer still are bonuses of any kind. -- “IRD is a nonprofit in name only,” said John E. Bennett, a former career State Department official and ambassador who led a reconstruction team in Baghdad that worked alongside IRD. “They built an organization designed to get USAID money.” -- USAID has increasingly turned to NGOs and corporations over the years, as the agency has lost thousands of employees to budget cuts and found itself with far fewer resources. IRD managed a large-scale project to clear trash in Baghdad and hired crews to construct a vast road network through southeastern Afghanistan. For IRD, this would be its first major road project, under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. --- At its core, IRD is a family affair. Keys, his wife and their daughter created IRD as a nonprofit entity in 1998 after working on numerous church-related relief efforts and social justice projects. They were later joined by Keys’s brother-in-law. -- The nonprofit’s inaugural project was a humanitarian effort funded by the State Department to stabilize portions of the Republic of Georgia. State then selected IRD to expand the program into Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Armenia. -- During the past decade, the company has broadened operations into more than 40 nations, employing 150 people at its Arlington headquarters and 110 more around the globe, plus thousands of contract workers, according to IRD. -- Between 2007 and the present, the nonprofit has received 82 percent of its nearly $2.4 billion in USAID funding for projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal procurement data. - More, Washingtonpost, at:


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