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Published in Print: March 21, 2007, as Contractor Leaves Iraq With Some School Projects Undone

Contractor Leaves Iraq With Some School Projects Undone

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The company hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help Iraq improve its schools wrapped up its contract in that country without having completed some tasks it was charged with carrying out, according to an audit report by the USAID’s office of inspector general.

The report, released last month, includes a letter of response from Hilda Arellano, the USAID mission director for Iraq, explaining that the war there made it hard for the firm—the Washington-based Creative Associates International Inc.—to complete some activities. After its contract ended in June, Creative Associates stayed in Iraq until the end of last month to try to complete outstanding work.

“An adverse security situation since the contract was awarded has resulted in unanticipated delays or changes in activities,” Ms. Arellano wrote in the Jan. 7 letter included in the audit report.

U.S. Agency for International Development officials added last week that “as the security situation deteriorated, [Creative Associates] increasingly lost access to teachers and schools. ... Site visits became prohibitively dangerous, and documentation suffered as a result.”

Stephen Horblitt, the director of external relations for Creative Associates, deferred to the USAID for comment.

Areej Musttaf, an Iraqi who was the deputy reporting coordinator for the company’s recent contract until June 2006, when she moved to Amman, Jordan, spoke extensively, however, about the challenges of trying to improve schools in a war zone. If security had been better, she said, “things could have moved smoothly and on time.”

In addition, Ms. Musttaf said, “we faced problems with the bureaucracy of the Ministry [of Education] and with the changing of officials. You bring people in, you coordinate with them, you start plans, and all of a sudden that person is changed. You start all over with another person. This creates so many delays,” she said in a telephone interview.

U.S. leaders touted the federal government’s help in repairing and improving schools in Iraq soon after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the regime of President Saddam Hussein. As of September 2006, the U.S. government had repaired nearly 5,200 schools; the USAID had fixed 3,000 of them. But as the security situation worsened, U.S. leaders said less in public about reconstruction efforts. Last June, the USAID quietly ended funding for education projects in Iraq at the school level. ("U.S. Withdraws From Education Reform in Iraq," Aug. 30, 2006.)

Last summer, Creative Associates was expecting to extend its stay in Iraq only through September, but the audit report says the company was given additional extensions until the end of last month, with no cost to the USAID. Creative Associates has received $109 million from the USAID for working in Iraq for more than three years and under two education contracts.

Difficult Circumstances

Nancy Lawton, the USAID’s regional inspector general in Baghdad, conducted an audit of 16 of the tasks that the company was supposed to carry out from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2006. They included training thousands of teachers, getting a $1.6 million computer system up and running, and renovating 84 model schools.

Audit Findings

An audit by the USAID inspector general’s office found that as of Sept. 30, 2006, Creative Associates had fulfilled only part of the tasks the company was expected to do for Iraq’s education system.

*Click image to see the full chart.

In the audit report, Ms. Lawton says the company completed seven of the tasks: For example, it created seven software modules, replaced or repaired 37 primary schools, produced 13 preschool television shows, and trained 12,000 teachers in computer technology. She reports that the status of another two tasks—renovating the the model schools and training 17,000 teachers in pedagogy—couldn’t be determined because of insufficient documentation. Lastly, she concludes that seven tasks were not completed.

The report says science and computer labs were bought but not installed in model schools. Servers for the sophisticated education information-management system were never installed. As of last October, according to the report, those servers were stuck in Customs. Instead of training 10,000 secondary school English teachers, the report notes, 7,500 were trained.

Ms. Musttaf said it appeared that the audit was conducted before some tasks were, in fact, completed. For example, she believes the science laboratories and computer laboratories were installed in the model schools, based on her communications with Creative Associates staff members who stayed in Iraq after she left in June 2006.

In addition, according to USAID officials, Creative Associates has reported that some computer servers were installed after the audit.

The company completed additional tasks under its second contract that weren’t examined in the audit, such as delivering 500,000 school bags with supplies to primary and secondary students.

Many factors outside of Creative Associates’ control made its work in Iraq difficult, Ms. Musttaf said.

The 13 television preschool programs produced with U.S. funds weren’t ever broadcast in Iraq, for example, because Creative Associates couldn’t get cooperation from the Iraq Ministry of Education or anyone else to broadcast them, she said. The company trained 7,500 teachers instead of 10,000 secondary English teachers because the ministry couldn’t find enough teachers who were willing to risk traveling the roads and attending a training session by an American company, she said.

Ms. Musttaf said she was especially moved by the effect of Creative Associates’ teacher training. She said she wept to see the excitement and interaction of teachers who attended a two-week training session in English-as-a-second-language methods in Amman last spring. “The teachers wanted to do something. It’s not easy when you put your life at risk to gain knowledge,” she said.

Attendance Down

Meanwhile, Ms. Musttaf said, the security situation in Iraq has worsened to the extent that many Iraqi children are not attending school. She and her family moved to Jordan after her mother barely escaped with her life from thugs who stole her car, Ms. Musttaf said.

Newsweek magazine cites figures from the Iraq Education Ministry saying that 30 percent of elementary-school-age children are attending school this year, down from 75 percent last year.

Officials at the Iraq Embassy in Washington were unable to confirm those figures by press time, and didn’t respond to questions concerning the audit.

Ms. Musttaf said two of her friends who weren’t able to leave Baghdad are keeping their children home from school, and she imagines other parents are, too.

“If I have a kid and live in Baghdad, I would rather have him in front of me and teach him rather than send him to school,” she said, “and I won’t know what kind of risk is outside the home.”

PHOTO: Iraqi children attend school in a tent in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, in November. The USAID quietly ended funding for education projects at the school level in Iraq last summer.
—File photo by Yahya Ahmed/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 28, Page 7

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