GAO reports on delays in US quake aid for Haiti

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Posted: Nov 17, 2011 7:25 PM
GAO reports on delays in US quake aid for Haiti

U.S.-funded projects seeking to help Haiti rebuild after last year's earthquake have suffered numerous delays, a report by the U.S. Congress' chief auditor said Thursday.

The report from the Government Accountability Office focused on energy, ports and shelter projects for which the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department set aside $412 million.

It said holdups stemmed from a number of difficulties, ranging from problems in staffing the mission after the January 2010 earthquake to an inability to award shelter contracts because of unclear land titles in Haiti.

The report noted that 10 of the 17 U.S. government employees in Haiti left just after the quake, and there was no mechanism to quickly replace them or expand staff numbers. Remaining staff members were forced to take on duties outside their areas of expertise while it took months to fill the vacancies, the GAO said.

It said potential applicants declined to apply, citing a damaged school where U.S. Embassy personnel send their children, uncertainty about quality of life issues and a lack of financial incentives. And once personnel were hired, they didn't arrive in Haiti until a year after the quake because their families and households had to be moved. Some employees also needed six months of language training.

The mission plans to have all its Foreign Service officers assigned to Haiti by February 2012, the report said.

Looking at reconstruction efforts, the report said there were delays in awarding infrastructure construction contracts because there was only one U.S. officer in Haiti authorized to award contracts of more than $3 million.

It said there were also other snags in contracting.

The U.S. mission was six weeks behind schedule in awarding a $15 million contract to build a power source for an industrial park outside the coastal city of Cap-Haitien. The delays stemmed from giving contractors time to respond to USAID's requirements, among other factors.

There was an effort to break ground on a "demonstration" settlement of 200 houses on the first anniversary of the earthquake but the mission couldn't obtain proper land titles to build, the GAO said.

Haiti's land registry hasn't been updated for decades, and many of the records that did exist were lost in the earthquake.

USAID responded to the GAO report by saying it agreed that staffing difficulties delayed projects, but said it had mobilized temporary staff to Haiti after the quake.

In a written statement, USAID Chief Operating Officer Sean Carroll said the agency has also provided an accelerated one-on-one language training program for its staff and is working to boost Foreign Service staff.

Congress has allocated more than $1.14 billion in reconstruction money for Haiti. The bulk of that money goes toward USAID and the State Department.