July 2009

Friday, July 31st, 2009

USAID Assistant Administrator Testifies before the Senate on Sudan

On Thursday, Earl Gast, the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Africa, reported on the status of humanitarian development in Sudan.  Chief among the topics discussed was the effects of the recent expulsion of 13 international NGO’s from Sudan.  Mr. Gast testified that over half of the USAID funded programs in Darfur closed as a result of the expulsion, though he states that they have since been able to temporarily close many of the gaps in aid.  He mentioned successes in the establishment of the Government of Southern Sudan, but noted that it still had issues of state capacity and potential problems with democratic legitimacy.

Rural Philanthropy Comes into Focus

The Wall Street Journal published an article discussing the need for a charitable focus on alleviating rural poverty.  The Council on Foundations held a three day conference on rural philanthropy earlier this month, and its president, Steve Gunderson, praised Obama’s understanding of philanthropic culture and decision to fund rural initiatives through the bailout package.  Currently, only 6.8% of grants from the top 1000 foundations go to rural America, where 28% of the population lives in poverty.

Study Says UN Children’s Program Did Not Work

A recent study of the UN’s Integrated Management of Childhood Illness Program, as implemented in Bangladesh, showed that the project had little effect on the health of poor children.  The study found that the program did improve the skill level of health care workers through training and increased breast feeding rates, which reduced instances of stunted growth.  In areas of the country that did not use the program, however, more children were vaccinated against measles , resulting in similar death rates between regions with and without the UN aid.  The program is now under criticism given its multimillion dollar budget and apparent lack of success.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kerry and Lugar Proposed Bill to Overhaul USAID

Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar introduced a  bill to rework the way US aid is managed and distributed.  The bill would give more power to USAID, which has lost out to other agencies, including the Pentagon, in recent years.  Additionally, the bill is designed to increase the transparency and coordination of foreign aid.

Senate Subcommittee Votes to Keep Funding for Service Budget

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education voted to provide $1.15 billion to the Corporation for National and Community Service.  That is nearly the exact amount President Obama requested and $90 million more than the House recently voted to give the program.

UN Worker to be Flogged

Lubna Ahmed Hussein, a Sudanese woman working for the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, faces charges of wearing “clothing causing harassment to the public sentiments,” a charge carrying a potential sentence of 40 lashings.  The offending article of clothing was a pair of pants.  Police arrested her and 13 other women outside a café in Sudan’s capital for wearing pants and 10 of the women have already received 10 lashings a piece.  Ms. Hussein has invited local and foreign journalists to witness the punishment, should she be convicted.

How Can USAID Stem the Growth of Radical Islam?

At the urging of a USAID worker, Clifford Brown, the University of Montana proposed a unique project translate moderate Islamic writings from Persian and Arabic into local languages.  Brown noted that “Islam has a large body of moderate literature saying, for example, that suicide is a sin against Allah,” and argued that publishing such materials could help curb the growth of radical Islamic movements.  The proposal was rejected by USAID for violating the First Amendment’s ban on government promotion of religion, but a clamor is rising in support of loosening regulations for USAID to promote such projects.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gates Revises Charity Tax Return Amidst Criticism

Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor arrested last week for breaking into his own home, revised the 2007 tax return for his charity, Inkwell, after a private investigator, Joseph Culligan, discovered that a $10,000 grant from the foundation went to the organization’s treasurer and Gate’s personal assistant at Harvard, Joanne Kendall.  Gates filed an amendment to the charity’s IRS form 990 to indicate that the grant, and another for $1000 were actually operating expenses, not grants.  On paper, the operating expenses of the charity went from less than one percent of the annual budget to nearly 40%.  Inkwell was formed by Gates in 2005 to research African and African-American culture, art, literature, and history.

Ugandan Village on the Web

The UK based Guardian released two articles reflecting on the half way point in its three year project in Katine, Uganda.  In association with Amref, the Guardian is in the midst of an unusual experiment, providing humanitarian and developmental aid to a village in Uganda while simultaneously reporting on progress via its web site.  The Guardian used its own staff, as well as hired journalists in Uganda to record and even criticize the project it was funding in the hopes that the open transparency would lead to better development decisions.

USAID Program Targets Sex Workers to Prevent HIV

In an apparent change from the prior presidential administration’s policies, USAID has approved a grant to World Learning Ethiopia, which will work directly with sex workers and vulnerable populations surrounding construction sites in Ethiopia.  According to Addis Fortune, USAID has granted $4.75 million to the project, which will focus on 25 of the largest construction sites in the country.

Washington D.C. is hurry up and wait city. President Obama entered office with a promise of quick change, but he has yet to name many of his appointments to head agencies. Many agencies of interest to nonprofits are still being run by interim leadership. Here at the Monitor, we’ll be doing a regular feature on who is being considered for political appointment to agencies of interest to the nonprofit world and who at the agencies is currently calling the shots.

Since taking office, President Obama has made several major policy changes in our foreign aid.  He repealed the Mexico City Policy, pledged $3 billion to fight world hunger, and expanded aid to Afghanistan, but he has yet to nominate a permanent head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is responsible for overseeing billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian aid.  He has, however, changed USAID’s leadership.  In January, he replaced the acting administrator, Kent Hill, with a new acting administrator, Alonzo Fulgham, a veteran of the agency.

Alonzo Fulgham, Acting Administrator of USAID

Alonzo Fulgham, Acting Administrator of USAID

Mr. Fulgham has been with USAID for twenty years, and is concurrently serving as the Coordinator of the Agency’s Transition Efforts, Chief Operating Officer, and Executive Secretary.  He worked as a Peace Corp Volunteer in Haiti from 1984 until 1986, after which he joined USAID as a Private Sector Advisor in Swaziland.  Since then, he has served in Serbia, Montenegro, Jordan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.  From 2005 until 2006, he was a Mission Director in Afghanistan.  He received a Bachelor of Science from Fisk University and a Master of Arts from the National Defense University.

We still have no hints as to who may replace Fulgham, but USAID seems to be in the hands of a well seasoned veteran of the organization.

Click here to read Mr. Fulgham’s full bio at USAID.gov

Monday, July 27, 2008

USAID Suspends Iraqi Program Following Audit

Taking a rare course of action, USAID “has suspended a $644 million Iraq jobs program after two outside reviews raised concerns about misspending, including an inspector general’s audit that found evidence of phantom jobs and money siphoned to insurgents”. The Community Stabilization Program is an employment project implemented by Virginia based International Relief and Development that was intended to stem the rise of insurgents. A series of audits found that millions of dollars worth of funds were siphoned off through overbilling, phantom workers, and other forms of fraud. The audits found that the irregularities largely benefitted “insurgents, as well as to corrupt community leaders and (program) representatives”. Following the reports, USAID suspended payments on July 4th as it continues to investigate fraud that may reach tens of millions of dollars.

IRS Releases Education Materials on Governance

The IRS has released a number of training materials on governance matters that should be of interest to charities.  They are intended to serve as a resource for nonprofits interested in implementing good governance practices and fulfilling their legal obligations. The release of the education materials comes on the heels of IRS efforts to promote good-governance by charities.

FBI: Charities used to launder money

The Asbury Park Press reports on charges of money laundering and bribery involving religious leaders and public officials in New York and New Jersey:

“Court papers indicate that five rabbis and several other men were laundering money for an FBI cooperating witness who told them he needed to hide profits of his counterfeit handbag company, which produced knock-off versions of Prada, Gucci and Canali bags, which the witness said were sold for hundreds of dollars.”

According to investigators, the charities received money and sent it to Israel, at which point it was made available at “cash houses” in Brooklyn.  The rabbis reportedly took a ten percent cut in the funds laundered.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates to Receive Award Despite Controversy

Bill Gates is in New Delhi today to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development on behalf of the Gates Foundation for its philanthropic work in India.  The Foundation also announced another $80 million grant to Avahan, an Indian AIDS prevention program started in 2003.  Avahan has come under criticism for high executive compensation, failure to meet goals, and the unsustainable nature of some of its programs.

IRS Releases Final Regulations for Form 990-EZ

On Thursday, the IRS released its final regulations for the 990-EZ form, which may be used by “tax-exempt organizations whose annual gross receipts are not normally in excess of $25,000”.  The regulations clarify which types of organizations  are able to use the 990-EZ to meet their filing requirements.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

USAID Inspector General Concerned Over Religious Projects

An audit by USAID’s Inspector General found that programs to rebuild mosques in Iraq and faith based AIDS clinics in Africa violate the agencies prohibition from using taxpayer money to fund “inherently religious activities.”  USAID refutes the claim, stating that the purpose of rebuilding mosques was to employ Iraqi youth and that the faith-based AIDS programs supported a secular cause.  The Department of Justice is currently investigating the claim to determine the legality of the USAID programs.

Aid Agencies Team Up with Meteorologists

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) has joined forces with two meteorological centers and an agricultural research agency to help coordinate aid.  Earlier this month, the IFRC used precipitation estimates to prepare aid for flooding in Senegal in advance of the rains.  Seasonal climate data has only recently become available for much of Africa and aid agencies are hoping drought and flood predictions can help them use their resources more effectively.

Less Testing Means More Medicine

A trial by the Development of Anti-Retroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) has shown that laboratory tests for AIDS patients in Africa provide little benefit.  The study suggests that HIV therapy can be safely delivered without lab tests, which can be expensive in rural parts of Africa.  An estimated two thirds of Africans with HIV do not receive anti-retroviral therapy, and making treatment less expensive will allow aid agencies to treat more patients on a given budget.

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