Acting IG Michael Carroll

Acting IG Michael Carroll Flickr user OversightandReform

USAID Watchdog Softened Audits, Whistleblowers Tell Post

Acting IG withdraws nomination in advance of report.

The inspector general for the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday issued a low-key statement tacitly acknowledging an expose on the front page of The Washington Post showing a pattern of top watchdogs softening criticism in audits of overseas aid programs.

The Post story by Scott Higham and Steven Rich described a situation in Egypt following the 2011 fall of President Hosni Mubarak in which USAID secretly paid the new Egyptian government $4.6 million to free 16 American nongovernmental organization workers charged with illegally operating in the divided country.

USAID’s inspector general in May 2012 completed a confidential  21-page audit questioning the legality of providing such “bail” money. But according to confidential sources and documents obtained by the Post, that audit was subsequently cut to nine pages, with critical findings removed.

The IG’s office “takes matters pertaining to its independence and credibility very seriously,” said the statement following the Post’s report that acting IG Michael Carroll had withdrawn his nomination for the permanent position, which had languished in the Senate for 16 months.  “We have confidence in the integrity of our work, and in the OIG staff and managers responsible for undertaking it. We will continue to work with the inspector general community, members of Congress and others to ensure that we address any concerns regarding our office.”

The Post’s story on the softened audits was based in part on interviews with “eight current auditors and employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.” The whistleblowers “complained about negative findings being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013,” the Post said. “In some cases, the findings were put into confidential ‘management letters’ and financial documents, which are sent to high-ranking USAID officials but are generally kept from public view.”

Reports that putatively independent inspectors general have altered audit reports to remove criticism of their agencies have been an ongoing concern for lawmakers and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

(Image via Flickr user OversightandReform)