The Washington-based firm hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help rebuild schools in Iraq this past school year has landed another education contract to work in that country.
Creative Associates International, which received $57 million from the federal government for its work in Iraq from May 2003 through this month has been awarded a contract worth up to $56.5 million by the USAID, according to Jose Fuentes, a spokesman for the agency. The two-year contract took effect July 1.
The work called for in the contract “will provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Education and improve the quality of Iraqi education by strengthening a decentralized education structure, which will contribute to a more open-minded and democratic society,” Mr. Fuentes said.
The USAID has refused to release evaluation and monitoring documents on Creative Associates’ first contract in Iraq, nor did the federal agency provide many details about the new contract. (“Iraq Gets Approval to Control Destiny of School System,” April 14, 2004.)
Mr. Fuentes said he couldn’t provide a copy of the contract or reveal for at least 10 days after its awarding—the USAID’s standard practice—the names of other companies or nonprofit organizations that had bid on it. He did say Creative Associates wasn’t the only bidder. Mr. Fuentes also declined, for what he said were security reasons, to name the subcontractors to Creative Associates.
Sami Al-Mudhaffar, who was appointed as Iraq’s interim minister of education last month, said in a telephone interview from Baghdad that he was pleased Creative Associates had been selected.
He said the company has done a good job so far in Iraq: “They did a lot of things—in teaching, in training, in building.”
But Nidhal Kadhim, an Iraqi educator formerly employed by Creative Associates, and Leslye A. Arsht, who was a senior education adviser for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority from July 2003 to April of this year, said they hope the new contract will be carried out somewhat differently from the first one.
Room for Improvement
Ms. Kadhim, a former high school principal of the United Nations’ Baghdad International School who is now a project coordinator for Iraq’s Ministry of Health, said Creative Associates was a good choice for the new contract because continuity in the work of rebuilding schools in Iraq is extremely important. She said that the company had generally performed well, and that a majority of its staff had worked effectively with local Iraqis.
But she said she hopes Creative Associates improves its partnership with local Iraqi professionals. Ms. Arsht expressed a similar view in an e-mail message last week by saying that “working alongside the Iraqis was one of the weakest aspects of Creative’s original team.”
Under its first education contract in Iraq, Creative Associates provided supplies and furniture to get the school system operational after President Bush declared major hostilities in the U.S.-led war in Iraq were over. It also trained teachers and supported the Education Ministry in capacity-building.
For six months, Ms. Kadhim worked as an office manager for the Iraq Foundation, a subcontractor to Creative Associates that was involved in teacher training. Then, from April 2004—the same month that Creative Associates pulled most of its international staff out of the country because of security concerns—through June, Ms. Kadhim was one of six local Iraqi professionals hired by Creative Associates to advise the Ministry of Education.
Both Ms. Kadhim and Ms. Arsht suggested that Creative Associates hire more local Iraqi professionals under the new contract than it did under the first one.
“It’s not enough to have people come from abroad and do something for us and then leave,” Ms. Kadhim said in a phone interview from Baghdad. “We would rather have them come and teach the people how to do things. They should train the Iraqis so they can continue their work.”
For example, she said that Creative Associates should have done more to engage Iraqi professionals in its teacher-training work.
“They took the whole project to themselves, and it was them who were doing all the materials and doing the training and preparing the materials,” Ms. Kadhim said. “It would have been good to have local staff help with the preparation of the materials.”
In e-mail correspondence late last week, Jeffrey Ghannam, a spokesman for Creative Associates, said that the company had worked in close partnership with local Iraqi professionals. Every one of Creative Associates’ high-level international staff members had an Iraqi staff member with whom he or she worked, according to Mr. Ghannam. Actually, he said, the USAID contract didn’t require the company to hire any local Iraqis to work in the Education Ministry.
Under the new contract, Mr. Ghannam said, the company will hire Iraqi expatriates, Iraqi-Americans, and Arab nationals to work with the ministry. “Creative is hiring for effectiveness, and that also means hiring local Iraqis who are IT specialists, secretaries, assistants, and many others,” he added.
He said that Creative Associates designed the teacher-training program in response to the USAID’s request for proposals, and that Hind Rassam Culhane, an Iraqi- American and career educator, led the program with the assistance of local Iraqis who played an integral part in program development and training.
Ms. Arsht, who is now working for the U.S. Department of Defense, said her biggest concern with the company’s future work is whether the company has the technical capacity to complete one particular job that she claims it left undone. She said that the Education Management Information System that Creative Associates set up for the Iraqi ministry isn’t usable in its current form.
“When Creative left, … they assured everyone that they had the EMIS database vessel—what a layperson would call the ‘guts of the system’—working and integrated nationwide with the [ministry] staff trained to use it. But that turned out not to be true at all,” Ms. Arsht wrote in her e-mail.
Mr. Ghannam pointed out that Creative Associates did much more than required by its contract regarding the computerized information-management system. Under the contract, the company was supposed to design, write, and plan for the establishment of the system. He said the company went beyond that by installing computers, loading data, and training staff members.
As a pilot program, he said, the system is functional in the Kurdish area of Iraq and in Baghdad.
A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as Creative Associates Gets New Iraq Contract