Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the US government has disbursed some $4.4 billion in foreign assistance to the tiny Caribbean nation. At least $1.5 billion was disbursed for immediate humanitarian assistance, while just under $3 billion has gone toward recovery, reconstruction, and development. Since many of the funds have gone toward longer-term reconstruction, there remains some $700 million in undisbursed funding ― in addition to annual allocations.
In our 2013 report “Breaking Open the Black Box,” we found:
Over three years have passed since Haiti’s earthquake and, despite USAID’s stated commitment to greater transparency and accountability, the question “where has the money gone?” echoes throughout the country. It remains unclear how exactly the billions of dollars that the U.S. has spent on assistance to Haiti have been used and whether this funding has had a sustainable impact. With few exceptions, Haitians and U.S. taxpayers are unable to verify how U.S. aid funds are being used on the ground in Haiti. USAID and its implementing partners have generally failed to make public the basic data identifying where funds go and how they are spent.
In response to that report, and others from USAID’s own inspector general and from the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress passed bipartisan legislation (the 2014 Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, or APHA) requiring greater reporting requirements from State and USAID.
These additional reporting requirements, which include information on subcontractors, as well as benchmarks and goals, represent a significant step in the right direction regarding transparency around US foreign assistance. However, limitations remain.
A joint review published in December 2016 by CEPR and the Haiti Advocacy Working Group found that the reports on US assistance in Haiti contain “omissions and deficiencies, including incomplete data, a failure to link projects and outcomes, and a failure to adequately identify mistakes and lessons learned.”
These weaknesses notwithstanding, the congressionally mandated APHA reports provide the most complete picture available of US assistance programs, whether in Haiti or anywhere else in the world, and remain useful especially for organizations on the ground looking to investigate or follow up on specific US-financed programs.
But a recent review of contract and grant information from USASpending.gov shows that USAID, and US foreign assistance generally, is still plagued by many of the same problems that have been evident for years. While USAID has drastically changed its rhetoric about partnering with local organizations and involving local stakeholders in the development of new programs, it does not appear to have made significant changes to its system of allocation of USAID funds. And now, what progress has been made appears threatened.
Some Progress with Local Partners, But the Beltway Bandits are Still on Top
The majority of US assistance to Haiti is through USAID. Since 2010, USAID has disbursed at least $2.13 billion in contracts and grants for Haiti-related work. Overall, just $48.6 million has gone directly to Haitian organizations or firms ― just over 2 percent. Comparatively, more than $1.2 billion has gone to firms located in DC, Maryland, or Virginia ― more than 56 percent, as can be seen in Figure 1. The difference is even starker when looking just at contracts: 65 percent went to Beltway firms, compared to 1.9 percent for Haitian firms.
Figure 1. USAID Awards by Location of Recipient (Percent of Total)
Source: USASpending.gov and authors' calculations
USAID has made it a priority to involve more local firms and civil society organizations ― holding informational sessions, meetings with stakeholders, etc. While there has been some slight improvement in the amount of funds going directly to Haitian organizations since 2010, the trend has more recently reversed direction.
In 2016, USAID assistance to Haiti was lower than in any year since the earthquake, totaling $140 million. However it was also the year when the greatest amount of USAID funds was allocated directly to Haitian organizations ― more than $15 million. This is primarily due to an increase in Haitian recipients of USAID grants. After totaling just $2.5 million from 2010 to 2014, Haitian grantees received more than $22 million in 2015–2016. A significant portion of this, nearly $6 million, went to Papyrus, a local management company, in order to increase the capacity of local organizations to partner with USAID.
In 2017, however, funds awarded to Haitian organizations were reduced drastically. Only one new grant was initiated with a local partner last year, totaling just $700,000. Though it remains too early to tell if this will continue into 2018, the decrease would appear to be consistent with the Trump administration’s stated “America first” policy.