Vice President Mike Pence’s office is meddling in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s process to determine foreign aid recipients, according to a recent ProPublica report — and at least one career official has been let go for objecting.
Interviews with nearly 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals, along with internal emails, revealed that Pence aims to focus foreign aid on Christian groups, the report said.
Playing favorites with U.S. foreign aid is against USAID’s rules, career officials told ProPublica, and as political appointees became increasingly involved in the process, career officials became more concerned.
“Sometimes this decision will be made for us by the White House (see… Iraq! And, increasingly, Syria),” Hallam Ferguson, a senior official in USAID’s Middle East bureau, wrote in an email viewed by ProPublica. “We need to stay ahead of this curve everywhere lest our interventions be dictated to us.”
“Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities,” the publication noted, and over the past two years, political pressure — particularly from the vice president’s office — has left some key decision-makers fearing their jobs are on the line if they fail to acquiesce.
Ferguson’s boss was ousted five months before he wrote the email quoted above, ProPublica said, after a mandate from Pence’s chief of staff: “Pence had grown displeased with USAID’s work in Iraq after Christian groups were turned down for aid.”
Steven Feldstein, a former State Department and USAID official under President Barack Obama, said “There are very deliberate procurement guidelines that have developed over a number of years to guard precisely against this kind of behavior.”
When politics enter the mix, he said, “you’re diluting the very nature of what development programs ought to accomplish.”
ProPublica noted that The Wall Street Journal and Buzzfeed have each previously reported on the vice president’s interest in beefing up foreign aid to Christian groups, as well as his disappointment with USAID’s work in Iraq.
Pence’s spokeswoman did not respond to the publication’s questions on the matter, but a USAID spokeswoman said recently issued grants were appropriate.
“The Trump Administration has made responding to the genocide committed by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against religious and ethnic minorities a top priority,” said the spokeswoman, Pooja Jhunjhunwala. “Assistance to religious and ethnic communities targeted by ISIS is not a departure from the norm, but rather a continuation of USAID’s rich history of promoting inclusive development and defending human dignity and religious freedom in our partner countries.”