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Published in Print: October 26, 2005, as Mum’s Mostlythe Word On Firm’s Work in Iraq

Mum’s Mostly the Word on Firm’s Work in Iraq

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American taxpayers will have to take the word of federal officials that U.S. involvement in the rebuilding of Iraq’s education system since the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein is going well.

No independent evaluation of the current two-year contract held by Creative Associates International Inc., the Washington-based firm engaged to support the Iraqi Ministry of Education in that restructuring, has been completed. The contract took effect in July 2004.

Called Education II, it is the second contract that the U.S. Agency for International Development has given to Creative Associates for education work in Iraq and is worth at least $51.8 million. Creative Associates was paid $56.5 million for carrying out the first yearlong contract, which took effect in May 2003, soon after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Hussein regime. ("Creative Associates Gets New Iraq Contract," July 14, 2004)

Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the USAID, acknowledged in an e-mail last week that “there has not been an independent evaluation of the Education II contract to date.”

By contrast, Management Systems International, in Washington, conducted an evaluation of the company’s work on its first contract in Iraq less than a year after it took effect.

The USAID refused to provide that evaluation to Education Week. The agency said in a March 24, 2004, response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the newspaper that “release of this deliberative-process information to the public could hamper the exchange of honest and open communications and thus adversely interfere with our agency’s contract-monitoring activities.”

When Education Week requested a similar kind of evaluation for the second contract through the FOIA this year, USAID officials replied in a Sept. 29 letter that no such appraisal existed.

Ms. Layman said that when Education II started, Management Systems International was “winding down” in Iraq, and that the new contractor charged with evaluating for the USAID has just recently arrived in the country. She added that the Education II contract has been well monitored even though an independent evaluation has not been conducted.

Upon request, the USAID last week provided a four-page document that describes Creative Associates’ accomplishments and goals under Education II.

Creative Associates, that Oct. 7 document says, has helped the Iraqi ministry select 84 primary and secondary schools that can serve as models for teaching and learning. From January to March 2005, it says, Creative Associates distributed more than a half-million school kits to high schoolers.

In addition, it says, the company has trained more than 6,600 teachers in English and 6,000 in information and communication technology. The document says that several groups of educators have been trained as “master teachers,” and that 59 officials from the Education Ministry have studied finance and leadership.

Jordanian Subcontractors

Creative Associates subcontracted some education projects to Jordanian companies.

Rubicon, a Jordanian educational software-development company, has produced a series of cartoon programs for Iraqi television that are meant to help prepare children for school. For example, episodes are ready to teach children to recognize letters of the alphabet, numbers, colors and shapes, and community helpers.

On its Web site, Creative Associates says that “the cartoon series is intended to allow Iraqi preschoolers to enjoy an age of innocence—away from the war that the world has come to know in headlines.” It says that episodes depict Kurdish children and both Sunni and Shiite Muslim children learning and playing together. Neither the USAID nor Creative Associates spells out when the series will be broadcast.

The USAID summary says that Primus, a division of Computer Networking Services, a software-development company based in Amman, has worked with the Iraqi ministry to establish requirements and create a prototype for an education management-information system for the country.

Citing security concerns, Stephen A. Horblitt, the director of external relations for Creative Associates, declined to provide details about the company’s work.

The Iraqi minister of education, Abdul Falah Hasan Al-Sudani, and his staff have not responded to repeated requests since May for information about the progress of the rebuilding of schools in Iraq. Mr. Al-Sudani, a native of Iraq who was appointed as minister in May, was formerly a teacher and researcher in biochemistry at the University of Wales-Swansea.

Vol. 25, Issue 09, Page 14

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