USAID Cancels Controversial Contract Proposal for “Positive Images” of Its Work in Afghanistan

Monday, February 17, 2014
Opening ceremony for USAID photo exhibit of its projects in Pakistan (photo: B.K. Bangash, AP)

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) quickly canceled a request for proposals for photographers to present high-quality “positive images” of the agency’s work in Afghanistan.

 

USAID made the request February 10, hoping especially to use social media to counteract what it said were negative images of the agency’s work. Then, only three days later, the request was canceled, according to USA Today.

 

The proposal (pdf) said, “USAID is executing the most massive US international assistance campaign ever, and the gains in particularly health and education have been impressive, yet the overwhelming majority of pictures recording that effort are negative and at least to some extent misleading. This is because professional photographers working for news agencies are the prime source of high-quality images of USAID work in Afghanistan. News photographs by their very nature focus on the negative.”

 

The reason for the proposal was to “help inform Afghans about the assistance American taxpayers are providing,” a USAID official told USA Today on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But “the wording of the [request] did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being re-evaluated.”

 

The plan was criticized by a good-government group. “USAID should instead be focusing on accomplishing mission goals, not glossy propaganda,” Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan watchdog, told USA Today. “Waste, fraud, and poor performance have already resulted in billions being lost, let’s not throw additional money down the drain.”

 

The agency has previously been criticized for such programs as road construction in Afghanistan. Some roads begin to deteriorate virtually as soon as they’re finished. Others, like the Garden-Khost Road project, are funded but never built because of corruption.

 

USAID isn’t the only government organization hoping to boost its image for work in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense recently launched a public relations campaign aimed at countering the work of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. SIGAR has upset some in the military for its reporting on failed, but expensive, programs and lack of accountability for tax dollars.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

USAID cancels contract for good news from Afghanistan (by Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today)

USAID: High-quality photos could turn the tide in Afghanistan (by Al Kamen, Washington Post)

Request for Price/Technical proposal under RFP No. SOL-306-14-0099: Photography of USAID’s Projects (USAID) (pdf)

Pentagon Leads PR Campaign to Counter Critical Inspector General Reports on Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

USAID Road Building in Afghanistan…a Study in Waste (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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