After a devastating earthquake shook poverty-ridden Haiti, the results were catastrophic. More than 230,000 Haitians were killed, another 300,000 were injured and 1.5 million lost their homes. As of June 2013, about 279,000 Haitians remained homeless due to the earthquake.
The American people saw this tragedy and decided that it would not sit idly while its neighbors suffered. The U.S. deemed that action was necessary, and that action took the form of $1.13 billion in emergency aid. Of that money, $651 million was set aside for USAID.
Unfortunately, the money provided did not have any clear guidelines or procedures for tracking its usage or its effectiveness. Worse still, it is unclear how much of the $1.13 billion has yet to be spent. The entire Haitian reconstruction effort in Haiti has been sorely lacking in oversight and transparency.
The General Accounting Office has reported that “Congress lacks information on the amounts of funds obligated and disbursed and program-by-program progress of U.S. reconstruction [in Haiti].”
The GAO went on to report that a wide variety of USAID projects in Haiti were behind schedule, over budget and unsustainable.
The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (H.R. 3509) is the most obvious solution to this thoroughly preventable problem. The bill — supported across the aisle — aims to provide the requisite guidelines to accurately assess how aid money has been spent thus far and how to best spend it in the future.
The primary motivation behind the bill — and the reason for its bipartisan support — is the massive information gap that exists between recovery programs and oversight agencies. Information is not being reported in a timely or accurate manner, and as such, there is extensive deadweight loss.
If enacted as a law, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act would demand constant progress reports, updated cost estimates and a vast increase in oversight. All of these changes would ensure that the reconstruction effort is on the right track.
The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it is has remained with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past six months. After its swift passage in the House, the six months in the committee is cause for concern.
As Haiti continues to struggle with crippling poverty, which dominated the country well before the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. Senate continues to struggle with the tracking of its foreign aid spending.
The problem is not limited to Haiti, though it does represent one of the most disturbing cases. The problem of transparency persists in all 149 of the countries that receive foreign aid from the U.S.
The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to trim that number to 148. The reconstruction effort in Haiti has hit a roadblock in the form of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but it is a roadblock that can be overcome.
— Sam Hillestad