Nonprofits Tell State Dept., USAID Proposed Vetting System Harmful

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Date: 
January 14, 2012

Ineffective and problematic is how several nonprofits and experts describe USAID’s proposed Partner Vetting System (PVS) in comments filed at the Department of State in December 2011 and at USAID in January 2012. Nonprofits are actively objecting this burdensome and unwarranted program in which thousands of nonprofit workers and local partners would have to be screened against secret government databases. In September 2011, the agencies presented parts of a proposed pilot program for NGOs in five countries, but has not yet announced further details. If implemented, the pilot would create hazards for aid workers, prevent some potential grantees from applying for funds, and will hamper the efforts of others to deliver services and programs that serve the interests of the United States.

 
“PVS is not adequately designed to protect NGO workers and partners and represents an unwelcome redefinition of the relationship between our community and the federal government, endangering critical aid and development work and consequently harming U.S. national interests,” said the comments sent to USAID by InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based humanitarian and international development non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
 
Other groups, including Save the Children and the Peace Appeal Foundation, say PVS is “a solution in search of a problem” because there is no evidence that USAID funds are flowing to terrorist organizations through NGOs. According to the USAID Office of the Inspector General, who conducted the oversight of the initial PVS-like vetting of programs in USAID's West Bank/Gaza portfolio for 2006 and 2007, "oversight activities during this period did not identify any instances where terrorist organizations received USAID funds." (p. 18) Nor has it reported finding such diversions elsewhere. 
 

Excerpts from comments filed with State and USAID opposing the implementation of PVS (click on the name to see their entire submission):
 

InterAction: “We are concerned that the Partner Vetting System puts State Department and USAID personnel and officials and partner employees and local partners at even greater risk.” (p. 3)
 
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL): “It remains our view that PVS, as currently structured, is a program without a realistic target that will place unreasonable burdens on those whom it requires to provide the intended information.”  (p.3)
 
Save the Children: “PVS will require…NGOs to institute potentially discriminatory practices against foreign individuals and partners.” (p.3)
 
Nora Lester Murad: “PVS is a prime example of misguided policies with impact categorically opposite to the stated objectives.” (p.1)
 
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): “The ACLU continues to have fundamental concerns with aspects of the Partner Vetting System. These concerns regard the lack of due process and transparency in the proposed screening, the overbroad scope of the individuals whose information is to be collected, and the privacy implications of collecting such highly personal, confidential information and sharing it across agencies.” (p.1)
 
Zakat Foundation of America: “Systems such as PVS tend to create barriers to effective delivery of aid programs, discourage small NGOs from applying for grants and alienate international partners, all without effectively addressing national security concerns.” (p.2)
 
InterAction: “The collection and maintenance of the vast amounts of personal data required by the PVS requires organizations to develop secure data management systems and to hire additional staff to manage the data and process.” (p. 3)
 
David A. Steele: “Questions raised about the accuracy of the lists of terrorists which will be used to assess individuals included in any project proposal or implementation of any project activity. The very fact that Nelson Mandela used to be on such a list is but one example of the questions that need to be raised. There do not seem to be adequate definitions regarding who would be designated a terrorist, what is the description of a “key individual” (very broadly defined in the proposed text), what constitutes derogatory information, what exactly is defined as a threat to national security, or what happens to information gathered on people who are not deemed to be terrorists. Grant programs could actually be halted because names of innocent people appear on a list.” (p.1)
 
The Constitution Project: “While it may be appropriate for the government to investigate key players receiving government humanitarian aid to prevent the diversion of these resources to terrorist groups, it is critical to incorporate adequate processes and controls to safeguard constitutional rights and values, including due process and privacy.” (p.2)
 
Peace Appeal Foundation: “The Department of State and USAID should work with the nonprofit sector to devise a vetting process that is effective, accurate and respects the neutrality of NGOs. This would be consistent with the 2010 recommendation of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” (p.3)
 
ACLU: “While the Department State’s October 14 Notice seeks public comments regarding its Program, to our knowledge the Department of State has not published any details regarding the Program… Without knowing these details, the ACLU has little basis on which to comment on the Program and whether its implementation will heighten or mitigate our concerns, or raise new concerns.” (p.1-2)