USAID, Pentagon struggle to make water projects in Afghanistan sustainable

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As U.S. troops draw down forces in Afghanistan over the next 18 to 24 months, what will happen to the water projects the U.S. spent millions on? A report by the Government Accountability Office pinpoints challenges faced by federal agencies in creating a safe water supply in Afghanistan, an essential part of the broader effort to stabilize that troubled nation. USAID has spent $250 million thus far in various projects focused on improving access to water, sanitation, agricultural irrigation and better water management. Water projects planned for the next four years will require an additional $2.1 billion in support.

Previously, the GAO requested a centralized database for USAID and the Pentagon to coordinate their water projects, but that still hasn’t happened. The latest report also found that neither agency meets regularly with its counterparts in the Afghan government, creating disappointment and distrust in Afghan ministries. Both the Pentagon and USAID also lack necessary information about projects in Afghanistan that are being funded by independent donors, making coordination difficult.

“Gaps exist in US agencies’ efforts to manage and monitor performance for Afghan water projects,” GAO noted. To increase the odds that water projects will prove sustainable, the watchdog agency recommended enhancing the technical and managerial capacity within Afghan institutions involved in water projects. The GAO also pushed efforts aimed at ensuring funding was available to keep the project operating.

FAST FACT: Only 27% of the Afghan population has access to safe drinking water and just 5% has access to improved sanitation, among the lowest rates in the world.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which are prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

NATIONAL SECURITY

* The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will expand its role in intelligence oversight as a result of language in the FY2010 intelligence authorization act. The Director of National Intelligence is preparing to authorize the GAO to receive access to intelligence information previously withheld. (Congressional Research Service)

ENVIRONMENT

* Controversial mountaintop mining requires additional permitting from the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers, but West Virginia mining companies are getting increasingly frustrated with the backlog of applications and delays in processing permits. The EPA permitting will increasingly focus on analyzing public health and environmental impacts of the proposed projects. (GAO)

MISC.

* The Supreme Court will decide next year whether to grant corporations personal privacy protection under the Freedom of Information Act. When the FCC received a Freedom of Information Request for information on a government contract with AT&T, the telecommunications giant appealed the ruling, saying it would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (Congressional Research Services)

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