December 2019 Church & State Magazine - December 2019

Pence Ensured That Foreign Aid Went To Christian Groups, News Investigation Reports

  Pence Ensured That Foreign Aid Went To Christian Groups, News Investigation Reports

Vice President Mike Pence interfered in the grant-making procedures of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to en­sure that more public support flowed to Christian groups, the investigative journalism nonprofit Pro­Publica has reported.

The piece by Yeganeh Torbati, who covers the federal government for ProPublica, asserted, “Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities. Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake.”

USAID regulations state that awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.”

But according to ProPublica, Trump administration political appointees are intervening in the process to steer funds to Christian organizations. In one recent case, USAID awarded grants to two Iraqi organizations that career officials (who are not political appointees) had previously turned down for aid. ProPublica reported, “Political appointees significantly impacted the latest awards, according to interviews with officials and other people aware of the process. Typically, such appointees have little to no involvement in USAID grants, to avoid perceptions of undue political influence on procurement.”

ProPublica noted that one of the groups selected for aid has no full-time paid staff and had never handled a government grant before. The other group won a grant only after its leaders complained publicly that the United States was not giving enough support to Christian groups in Iraq. Documents examined by ProPublica indicated that neither entity was considered a front-runner for aid in the initial round of consideration.

Steven Feldstein, a former State Department official during the Obama administration, told ProPublica that previous administrations put guidelines in place to protect against this sort of favoritism.

“There are very deliberate procurement guidelines that have developed over a number of years to guard precisely against this kind of behavior,” Feldstein said. He added that when political considerations come into play, “you’re diluting the very nature of what development programs ought to accomplish.”

Critics within the State Department questioned the administration’s emphasis on assisting Christian groups in Iraq, noting that only about 2-3 percent of the Iraqi population is Christian. Some officials felt that more aid should go to Muslim groups and others who had been victimized by the terrorist group ISIS.

An anonymous USAID official told ProPublica that officials had to lobby Pence’s office heavily to free up money to assist members of the Yazidi sect, a small group that was brutally targeted for extinction by ISIS.

“There was a very ideological focus on Christians, and most of the questions were about Christians,” the official in question said. “We were trying to get them to focus on others in the minority communities that might need assistance.”

The entire story can be read at www.propublica.org.

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