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USAID Ditches Plan to Buy Pretty Photos of Afghanistan


Less than a week after posting a contract proposal online for “timely, attractive visual images” of development efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) canceled the request.

An anonymous USAID official told USA Today the proposal was cancelled because "the wording of the (request) did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being re-evaluated.” The actual goal of the project, the official said, was to "help inform Afghans about the assistance American taxpayers are providing." However, the proposal’s listed objectives state that the photos are “for distribution on social media, to conventional media and directly to the U.S. public."

From the proposal:

USAID is executing the most massive U.S. international assistance campaign ever, and the gains particularly in 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.

According to Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project On Government Oversight, the project was nothing more than a euphemism-filled contract for taxpayer-funded propaganda.

"USAID should instead be focusing on accomplishing mission goals, not glossy propaganda. Waste, fraud, and poor performance have already resulted in billions being lost, let's not throw additional money down the drain," he said.

USAID was recently criticized in a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for continuing to provide billions of dollars in direct assistance to sixteen Afghan ministries despite a high risk of corruption and misuse of those funds. John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, called it “the biggest gamble with taxpayer money that USAID has ever made.” USAID fought unsuccessfully to have portions of SIGAR’s report withheld from public release.

Image from Flickr user Ben Stephenson.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Iraq & Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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