The accidental NGO and USAID transparency test: Till Bruckner writes about his effort to get information on project budgets for USAID funded NGOs in Georgia. Here is his note on the experience:
The documents are disappointingly full of blacked-out non-information. The level of disclosure varies drastically from one document to the next. Some budgets are provided in full, while others appear as blacked-out row upon row. In three cases, USAID even withheld the identity of the contractor itself. USAID explained this inconsistency saying that it was legally required to contact each grantee to give it “the opportunity to address how the disclosure of their information could reasonably be expected to cause substantial competitive harm.”
I wondered why USAID is legally bound to follow its grantees’ wishes in deciding which information to withhold. Can the grantees of a US federal agency really compel that agency to keep the total amount disbursed, or even their very identities, secret? Why doesn’t USAID specify full disclosure as a grant condition?
This provides one example of what Al Roberts calls as the challenge to transparency arising from ‘networks’ in his compelling book, Blacked out and also the larger challenge of bringing transparency to the non-government sector.