When the official watchdog overseeing U.S. spending on Afghanistan asked the U.S. Agency for International Development recently for details about the 641 health clinics it funds there, the agency readily provided a list of geospatial coordinates for them.
But when the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) went looking for the $210 million worth of clinics, the majority of them weren’t there.
John Sopko, the special inspector general, sent USAID a letter on June 25 asking about the clinics.
“Thirteen coordinates were not located within Afghanistan,” the letter reads. Additionally, 13 more were duplicates, 90 clinics had no location data and 189 coordinate locations had no structure within 400 feet.
One set of coordinates was in the Mediterranean Sea.
“My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510 — nearly 80 percent — of the 641 health care clinics funded by the PCH [Partnership Contracts for Health] program,” wrote Sopko.
In his understated conclusion, Sopko noted drily: “To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, both USAID and MOPH (the Afghan Ministry of Public Health) need to know where they are.”
According to the letter, USAID provided geospatial coordinates for 551 of the facilities to SIGAR in May 2014. But USAID spokesperson Sam Ostrander told The Intercept those coordinates are actually separate from the organization’s internal records, which are more accurate: “USAID maintains GPS data for the health facilities it has constructed in Afghanistan and that database is separate from the data on which SIGAR relied in issuing its inquiry letter,” Ostrander wrote in an email. “The inquiry letter is based on Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) data, not USAID-maintained data.” He said that SIGAR’s June 25 letter was the first time SIGAR raised concerns about the geospatial data.
“GPS coordinates are not the first line in monitoring a health facility,” Larry Sampler, an assistant in USAID’s Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs department, wrote in a statement sent out by the agency’s press office. “Coordinates can help, but are not required, to locate the target community and to serve as a cross reference to USAID. It has been a common practice for Afghan ministries to use the location of a village center as the coordinates for a facility, particularly when there was limited access to GPS technology.”
Sampler wrote that USAID maintains connections with local Afghan staff and third-party monitors, who routinely check into the clinics.
But Ostrander also told The Intercept that USAID will be working with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to update its outdated and sometimes inaccurate location data for the clinics.
And this isn’t the first time that USAID has handed SIGAR faulty or inadequate data on its public health missions in Afghanistan. In 2012, when SIGAR requested information about USAID’s infrastructure projects, including new schools, clinics and roads, large parts of the dataset were missing, inaccurate or duplicated. According to a 2013 letter from SIGAR, there were “concerns” about the dataset’s “completeness and reliability,” not just in terms of faulty location data but also missing cost information and project descriptions.
The health clinics were formed under USAID’s Partnership Contracts for Health Program, which “supports the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to deliver basic health services to more than 1.5 million Afghans every month,” according to a fact sheet on USAID’s website. The health facilities include basic health centers, prison health centers, emergency care and midwife care. The project has an overall budget of $259 million, and was first implemented in July 2008.
SIGAR, formed by Congress in 2008, is responsible for independent oversight of reconstruction and relief projects within Afghanistan, which are worth over $100 billion as of March 2015.