August 24, 2010; Source: Aid Watch | NPQ recently advocated for the disclosure of core documents in the Social Innovation Fund grantmaking process by the Corporation for National and Community Service as a transparency measure but we realize that CNCS did not stand alone in its unwillingness to share such information. New York University’s Bill Easterly edits an intriguing blog that focuses on the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the extent to which it directs foreign aid to address poverty. A guest blogger described his “painful 14-month struggle” to get USAID to publish project budgets of NGOs it had funded to work in the Republic of Georgia. He eventually received documents on 19 NGOs, private contractors, and UN bodies funded by AID, but the information varied from complete budgets for some, to significantly redacted budgets for others, to one, which even withheld the identity of the grantee.

According to the blogger, USAID explained that it was legally obligated to ask each grantee “to address how the disclosure of their information could reasonably be expected to cause substantial competitive harm” and attributed redactions to requests by the grantee NGOs. The entities that redacted nothing were the two UN agencies and three NGOs (UMCOR, Mercy Corps, and AIHA). In contrast, CARE permitted only the publication of a “summary budget,” even redacting information regarding its indirect cost rate and the bottom line budget total.

The worst were apparently World Vision (which we covered in a newswire recently on religious discrimination in hiring) and two others, which had all information blacked out except for the grand totals. World Vision responded to the blogger that there was no evidence that USAID ever contacted them about the public disclosure request, but USAID twice confirmed that it did contact all of the grantees.

Here’s the rub: If the grantee doesn’t respond to the USAID request, USAID simply withholds all of the information, making non-disclosure the default agency policy. Knowing that, grantees that don’t want information to be revealed can take the easy route of no reply in order to maintain secrecy.—Rick Cohen