A top official with the humanitarian organization CARE criticized the Bush administration Friday, saying the U.S. government's rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have favored private corporations over established nonprofits that have long-standing ties to the countries.
Kevin Henry, CARE USA's advocacy director, said the Bush administration is the first in recent U.S. history to rely more on for-profit corporations than nongovernmental organizations to rebuild crucial areas of a devastated foreign country. Henry's complaint centers on U.S.-funded social and community projects.
"Obviously, there's a pattern here," Henry said in an interview in San Francisco. "This administration has the utmost confidence in the military and the private sector -- and basically anyone else is suspect. . . . In Afghanistan, they didn't even really invite NGOs to compete for funding."
Last month, after American troops entered Baghdad, the U.S. government gave a major Iraqi education contract to Creative Associates International, a private Washington, D.C., consulting firm that also was awarded a major education contract for Afghanistan last year.
CARE, which has operated in Afghanistan since 1961, had bid on the Afghanistan project, Henry said, as part of a "strong consortium that included most of the NGOs on the ground who had worked in the education sector" as well as the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which had expertise in producing textbooks in Afghanistan in the native languages of Pashto and Dari.
"We were just stunned by their decision," he said.
Neither the White House nor the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers many of the government's international aid projects, returned calls for comment Friday.
Other organizations, such as InterAction, an association of nonprofit groups, also have complained about the Bush administration's emphasis on for- profit corporations. Several weeks ago, representatives of nongovernmental organizations met with Agency for International Development officials, Henry says, to "register our protest and concern about this trend."
Henry acknowledged that the U.S. government is making an effort to involve nongovernmental organizations to some extent in Iraq, and CARE USA has not been shut out completely. Since the war ended, the U.S. government has given the Atlanta organization $4 million for its programs in the country, Henry said.
But what alarms Henry is the disproportionate funding levels for private and nonprofit projects.
"Right up front, they have provided funding to six of the leading nongovernmental organizations to do a range of relief and immediate reconstruction activities. Now, that might amount to, in total, $50 million -- whereas the Bechtel contract alone could end up being worth over $700 million. And they may put out as much as $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in big private-sector contracts," he said.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle