This testimony is based on the author's working paper of the same title, cowritten with Ben Schwab.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Carper, thank you for inviting me to testify on behalf of Africa Fighting Malaria and the American Enterprise Institute on malaria and USAID.
Ninety years ago a million Americans suffered from malaria and a Congressional Committee held hearings to discuss policy options to eradicate malaria from the United States. This was achieved by the early 1950’s, due to wealth and better nutrition, window screens and DDT spraying.
Today malaria is a risk for at least 2 billion people, suppressing hope and economies alike--notably in Africa (Latin America and Asia are also seeing worsening malaria incidences). And unfortunately we appear to be losing the war on malaria. Far from rolling the disease back it appears to be increasing.
But there are bright spots. Some African countries are enacting comprehensive malaria control programs, which are grounded in the idea that success requires every tool that science has provided, much as the U.S. did to rid itself of malaria 50 years ago (and much as examples from Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania in 1950s and 1960s showed).
Government and private entities in South Africa and Zambia for example are using a combination of low-level, controlled indoor insecticide use (both DDT and other chemicals), bed nets for key staff, and prompt treatment of malaria cases to keep malaria incidence low. And the results are startling, 70-90% reductions in disease within a couple of years, and even better reductions in mortality.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not been directly involved with the two most successful strategies, indoor spraying and effective drugs, except perhaps in some very marginal ways at best. I say perhaps because it is hard to fathom what exactly the $4m USAID malaria allocation to Zambia supports. Since USAID releases data as reluctantly as if it were a national security outfit we have to surmise a lot from the information we have fought to obtain by FOIA requests and from interviewing people in the field-- hopefully the ongoing GAO investigation into USAID malaria programs will yield much needed information.
Despite the obvious benefits of comprehensive malaria control programs, by its own admission, "USAID typically does not purchase drugs other than in exceptional or emergency circumstances" and "IRS is not a major focus of programs." Yet USAID continues to say it supports comprehensive programs--this is a fiction. Our estimation is that of the 2004 budget, less than 10% (perhaps as low as 5%) of the budget was spent on actual commodities that save lives. The vast majority of the rest was spent on support and technical assistance--this is not comprehensive--it is in fact highly selective in favor of western staff. (It is likely that well over half the budget goes on salaries, staffing costs and travel--perhaps a lot in the U.S.)
From the information that is published it appears that USAID coordination is entirely random (often it provides some technical assistance where no commodities exist). But even if coordination were well managed USAID rarely measure outcomes (and never the key outcomes that matter--reductions in malaria morbidity and mortality), so it wouldn’t know whether its programs were working anyway.
Also, bed net distribution is not a good outcome measurement, although it was the only performance data provided by Mr. Miller in his testimony (It is not a good measurement because we do not know how many people regularly sleep under the nets provided--imagine a hot and humid August night in DC, no AC and sleeping under a stifling net and you’ll see why that data is important). There are many nights I simply couldn’t sleep under a net out in the field.
While we can quibble about the best interventions, there is no doubt that USAID fails badly in the transparency and accountability stakes, and that is the vitally important point I want to make.
USAID does not consistently measure anything useful, does not measure real outcomes, and has not updated the yellow book since 2001 so we have no idea what USAID’s contracts are for, or exactly with whom, and for how much. Of the few reports USAID has filed many are self-serving (according not just to me but GAO in 2002 and an internal review published last year), and since it does not collect useful data it is incapable of effectively evaluating its performance.
Since Anne Peterson, then Assistant Administrator for Global Health first testified to a Congressional subcommittee about USAID’s malaria program in September of 2004, not a single program report, evaluation or other document concerning the Agency’s malaria activities has been submitted to the Agency’s publicly available database (the Development Experience Clearinghouse). In that 8 month period I notice some welcome rhetorical changes in favor on ACTs and saying they ‘support’ IRS, but I see no change in action on the ground.
When I testified alongside Dr. Peterson last September I suggested that if accountability and transparency were not delivered quickly, U.S. funding for their programs should be re-allocated to agencies that have a better chance of improving health. Too many children die from this disease for such failure to continue. I conclude the same way only with stronger emphasis. I think that USAID must rapidly increase its transparency--I would encourage a web site not unlike the Global Funds which would hold all technical information. For USAID that would include contracts, grants and cooperative agreements, budget and implementation plans. Unless it does this soon--say 90 days--I think it should have its malaria budget reallocated for 2006.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to submit written testimony for this important hearing. I am submitting a paper, The Blind Hydra, written by myself and Benjamin Schwab for the American Enterprise Institute on USAID’s malaria programs, as my written testimony.
Thank you Mr. Chairman
Although several papers in academic journals have discussed the efficacy of individual malaria programs, and other publications have analyzed the functioning of the United States Agency for International Development, this is the first comprehensive analysis of the Agency’s overall approach to malaria control. USAID is found wanting: its lack of transparency makes detailed economic assessments of performance impossible; its organizational structure and methods of information management hinder opportunities for collaboration with other donors and prevent necessary assessments of ongoing programs; it avoids accountability for program performance by deflecting responsibility onto contractors; it fails to condition funding for these contractors on relevant outcome measurements; it has influenced the construction of a system wherein the vast majority of funding for malaria either never leaves the United States or funds the employment of U.S. citizens; it ensures continued Congressional support by maintaining key beltway contractors who lobby for increased funding; it spends less than five percent of its malaria budget purchasing actual life-saving interventions; and lastly, it bases its choice of malaria interventions on extraneous political consideration, not on best practice, unnecessarily costing lives.
USAID should take several positive steps to improve overall performance. It should increase its transparency. Such a move will instigate necessary upgrades in organization and data management, improve the Agency’s capacity to work with other donors and allow external experts to contribute useful suggestions for performance improvements. It should ensure that programs have the necessary funding and scope to achieve success--a sustainable reduction in the malaria burden--and measure their progress with appropriate interim results. At present, USAID spreads its funds too thinly to run such robust programs. By focusing on fewer countries, USAID could provide tangible results, lowering criticism of its performance and establish best practice models for other countries to follow, saving more lives. Where its comparative advantage lies in providing technical assistance, it must coordinate with other agencies that provide actual medical interventions (bed nets, insecticides, drugs) in order to ensure a robust effort. Lastly, it must not inhibit countries from using interventions that its staff opposes for reasons other than effectiveness in combating malaria.
If USAID cannot do this, Congress should distribute USAID’s malaria budget to another agency.
In 1997, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined several major international development organizations, including the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), to form the Africa Initiative for Malaria Control (AIM) (Brundtland 2002). At the time, malaria mortality rates in Southern and Eastern Africa had doubled from their 1980s levels, and concern was growing over the disease’s increasing human and economic toll (WHO 2003). AIM intended to counter that rise by morphing itself into a global initiative known as Roll Back Malaria (RBM). RBM’s goal of halving malaria mortality by 2010 marked an ambitious new effort to fight the disease, and the over 90 public and private agencies that subsequently joined the fight were optimistic about the prospects for alleviating the disease burden. (Brundtland 2002).
Fast forward to 2005, and the hope for progress has not been realized. Instead of moving towards a fifty percent reduction, deaths due to malaria have further increased, possibly by as much as 10 percent (Attaran 2004). Put simply, so far Roll Back Malaria has failed (Lancet 2005).
RBM’s failure should be an embarrassment to its core members, WHO, UNICEF, and USAID among others. It has left a massive public health problem, one that claims over one million lives a year, unsolved. Although well intentioned international aid organizations have attempted to put a positive spin on RBM’s lack of progress, donors are nevertheless faced with a vexing problem. Should they: continue investing resources in a losing battle? Commit even further now that the problem has worsened? Change tactics and maybe do more with current resources?
This paper analyzes the dilemma from the perspective of the U.S. government, with particular emphasis on the role of USAID in efforts to battle malaria. There have been serious discussions in Washington about increasing malaria funding over and above the nearly five-fold increase from just under $14 million in 1998 to $80 million in 2004 (USAID 2004). It is, therefore, absolutely crucial that those funds be allocated correctly. As America’s foreign aid agency and the prime administrator of U.S. global health funding, USAID would be the obvious recipient of any future increases in the anti-malaria campaign. But is it the best choice?
To determine how the U.S. should continue its efforts against malaria, and the role USAID should have in those efforts, this paper analyzes the Agency’s past performance against the disease. Based on that assessment, as well as a close look at its current orientation, we forecast how well it will spend future, possibly increased, malaria funds. We then make a series of recommendations for how the Agency, and the U.S. Government as a whole should proceed in its laudable efforts to fight malaria.
Though the focus here is USAID’s malaria programs, many of the weaknesses highlighted apply to other aspects of the agency. Failures in the fight against malaria are a microcosm of more general Agency shortcomings. Thus, the conclusions drawn by the evidence from malaria programs should interest anyone concerned with American foreign aid.
II. UNDER THE FEVER TREE
The Scope of the Problem
Describing the enormity of the worldwide malaria problem requires no hyperbole. According to the most recent estimates (Snow et. al. 2005), approximately 2.2 billion people are currently at risk of contracting the disease. Malaria causes at least one million deaths annually, and approximately 515 million cases of acute illness.
The malaria burden falls heaviest on Africa, where over ninety percent of the world’s malaria deaths occur (WHO 2003). However, current research suggests that previous WHO estimates significantly underestimated malaria incidence outside of Africa, and that perhaps a quarter of all malaria cases occur in other regions (Korenromp 2005; Snow et. al. 2005).
Malaria preys most heavily upon pregnant women and young children. In Africa alone it kills a young child every thirty seconds, and often leaves survivors with significant brain damage and cognitive impairments. The disease debilitates those malaria sufferers that escape death and long term impairment for at least a week, and sometimes longer.
Malaria, through its harm to labor productivity and educational development, carries a high economic cost as well A recent paper in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine estimated that malaria independently hindered economic growth in endemic countries by 1.3% per person per year, whereas no such correlation was observed for other tropical diseases (Sachs and Gallup 2001). The total annual cost of the disease in Africa could be as much as $12 billion. Furthermore, within endemic countries, the poor suffer at disproportionately high rates. A survey in Tanzania revealed that under-five mortality from malaria was 39% higher for the poorest citizens than the wealthiest, and a similar study in Zambia estimated higher prevalence rates among the most destitute (WHO 2003).
Though malaria currently affects predominantly tropical areas, which are also less developed economically, its reach has not always been so limited. Many temperate regions, including the United States contain the mosquito vectors capable of carrying malaria. Increased international trade and travel make these areas vulnerable to a recurrence. Though miniscule by comparison to malarious countries, the U.S. has seen a steady increase in localized malaria outbreaks, due mainly to tourists returning and immigrants arriving from endemic areas.
Despite its devastating toll, malaria remains a thoroughly preventable and curable disease. Spraying tiny amounts of insecticide on the inside walls of dwellings--known as indoor residual spraying (IRS)--is highly effective at repelling and killing the mosquitoes that transmit the disease. Insecticide treated bednets (ITNs) similarly provide a barrier between potential victims and mosquitoes during the night, which is the vector’s most active period. If one does become infected, several drugs can cure the disease. Most effective, and least susceptible to resistant strains, are artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), which are derived from an ancient Chinese herbal remedy.
Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite and transmitted by female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. The connection between mosquitoes and malaria was not always known, however, and many believed that the disease was caused by the moisture loving Acacia Xanthophloea (dubbed the "Fever Tree") or by bad swamp air (Van Wyck 1984; Harrison 1978). Once the role of the mosquito was discovered in 1898, malaria control efforts focused on habitat reduction, known as environmental vector control. Chemical control methods, involving the use of available insecticides and larvicides, were also employed. Though advances in vector control and treatment with quinine yielded moderate success in some places, post-World War Two efforts that utilized the newly synthesized insecticide known as DDT affected the most dramatic reductions in malaria yet witnessed.
DDT was first used in 1939 as an agricultural insecticide in Switzerland, but its public health applications quickly became known after the Allies used it to control typhus epidemics during the war. Its subsequent employment in malaria control brought astounding success. Through massive DDT spraying programs, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) reduced its malaria cases from three million annually to 29 in less than twenty years (Harrison 1978). Complete eradication was quickly achieved in many areas, including most of Brazil, Southern Europe, and the United States. India and parts of Southern Africa also experienced dramatic reductions. The prevailing strategy , which relied primarily on the use of DDT spraying to combat malaria, required careful planning, a highly organized and well trained staff of sprayers, and constant vigilance against signs of recurrence.
Buoyed by the successful application of DDT to malaria control, in 1955 the WHO launched its Global Malaria Eradication Campaign. Supported by $1.2 billion in U.S. bilateral assistance (a large amount of money today and a truly vast sum then), given from 1950-72, the WHO’s campaign was a decisive endorsement of the unilateral ‘vertical’ approach to malaria control advocated most strongly by American epidemiologists like Fred Soper (Tren and Bate 2000).
But by the latter part of the 1960s, malaria began to creep back in countries that had used the vertical approach to affect dramatic reductions. Many countries, notably India, were simply unable to maintain the perpetual commitment to a highly organized spray program required for success (Harrison 1978). In addition, many parts of Africa, where poor infrastructure made it unsuitable for massive spraying campaigns, were so severely malarious that the region was deemed too daunting a task for eradication, and bypassed altogether (Nchinda 1998).
By 1969, after a formal reexamination of the malaria eradication strategy, the WHO endorsed a series of recommendations that would eventually lead to the phasing out of the vertical eradication approach (WHO 1969). The new strategy, which came to dominate the major global health agencies, emerged due to growing concern that a strictly one-dimensional approach (massive spraying with DDT) was inadequate to tackle the malaria problem. It therefore emphasized the importance of strengthening basic health services, dealing with each region’s unique socioeconomic and cultural situations, and focusing on malaria treatment, as opposed to strictly prevention. Known as the ‘horizontal’ approach, the new paradigm stressed control and containment of malaria, as opposed to complete eradication.
Despite the beginnings of this strategic reorientation, and growing concern over resistance to DDT and possible harmful effects from its use, as described in Rachel Carson’s influential Silent Spring, vector control programs would remain an integral component of malaria campaigns for the next decade. Expert testimony at WHO meetings warned that no evidence of DDT’s toxicity had ever been established and that "limiting the availability or use of DDT for the control of malaria and other vector-borne diseases in developing countries could lead to a public health disaster" (WHO 1970). A WHO technical report issued in 1971 similarly recognized DDT as the "major single factor that made the concept of time-limited eradication possible" and recommended the continued availability of insecticides, "particularly DDT" (WHO 1971). Even the U.S. delegate, responding to concerns that the country’s impending ban on DDT would harm developing nations’ malaria control efforts, pledged not to limit its availability for public health purposes (WHO 1971, 386).
In practice, however, DDT and vector control methods, as well as the goal of eradication, would eventually lose out to the horizontal control and treatment approach. A dwindling supply of DDT had precipitated a steep price increase, prompting both the Nepalese and Indonesian delegates at the WHO to request purchasing assistance from wealthy nations on behalf of all developing countries (WHO 1975). No such assistance was forthcoming. In reality, the die had already been cast against vector control methods, and 1978 simply ushered in the formal reorientation of global malaria control to a horizontal approach. Despite subsequent protests from the Burmese and Comoros delegation that the WHO should not lose focus on vector control (WHO 1980), and the Mexican and Spanish delegations' insistence that eradication remain the goal of malaria control (WHO 1978, 491), the WHO and its key supporters (foremost among them USAID) disowned the methodologies that had been used to eradicate malaria in the developed world during the post-war era.
The WHO’s actions echoed far beyond Geneva, as the new horizontal programmatic approach would form the basis of nearly every bilateral and multilateral malaria program. Vector control began to disappear from the vocabulary of public health officials. Dr. Jose Najera, Director of the Malaria Action Program, explained the new tactics best: "[Malaria control goals] would be accomplished mainly by the use of drugs for chemotherapy" (WHO 1983). Significantly, with the integration of malaria control into the primary health system established as the new paradigm, the disease nearly dropped from the radar of international health altogether. Indeed, with malaria safely eliminated from donor nations, Western countries seemed less interested in funding malaria specific activities, and both bilateral and multilateral interest funding for parasitic diseases dropped off during the seventies (WHO 1978, 488).
Renewed international interest in malaria did not materialize until the nineties. An international treaty intent on banning persistent organic pollutants (POPs) sparked heated debate among those concerned that it would sound the final death knell of the use of vector control in malaria control. Despite initially fierce opposition from environmental groups, health officials opposed to the proposed DDT ban were able to include an exemption for public health applications. Yet aside from slight alterations in rhetoric, donor agencies like USAID continued largely on the same horizontally integrated course with regards to malaria, and continued to deemphasize vector control and DDT.
Aside from the attention generated by the POPs treaty, the launch of the international Roll Back Malaria campaign in 1998 marked a revived international concern over the persistence of the malaria burden. Unable to ignore the rising malaria mortality rates battering developing countries, due in large part to increased chloroquine resistance, the WHO, UNICEF, and USAID, among others, spearheaded this new, ambitious effort to marshal resources and halve the global malaria burden by 2010. Though it offered a new organizational framework to deal with the malaria problem, RBM offered little innovation in strategy. Key objectives remained treatment oriented, with the significant addition of prevention through ITNs. ITNs, which were much more palatable to influential environmental groups and had a proven, if somewhat limited, effectiveness, had become increasingly popular during the 1990s among donors looking for a practical malaria control solution that could be integrated into a horizontal approach and would not generate the same controversy as vector control. Setting the goal that 60 percent of those at risk for malaria across the globe would be covered with these nets by 2010, RBM’s architects--including USAID--hoped that significant ITN usage would be both realistic to implement and a major contributor to saving lives.
In addition to setting a new priority on malaria, RBM offered a formal confirmation of the consensus approach used by Western donors to coordinate and dominate international health strategies. As a partnership initiative, however, RBM merely cemented a strategy that key bilateral donors, such as USAID, had been espousing for years: community-based malaria programs integrated into the more general concerns of strengthening primary health care systems, building capacity, and developing sound management and drug policies. The latter had become especially crucial, as the drug of choice for the last half century, chloroquine, had become nearly useless due to high resistance, and the development of ACTs offered new hope for effective drug treatments.
Since its launch, RBM’s progress in the fight against malaria has been disappointing. Deaths continue to rise, and a doubling of international resource commitment to the problem has proven ineffectual. Prospects for meeting the RBM goals and objectives by 2010 are dim at best. However, malaria remains a thoroughly preventable and treatable disease, and the means to make significant strides in eliminating its burden are available today. The establishment in 2002 of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), a grant-making organization that serves as an international clearinghouse for direct disbursements of donated funds, offers a hopeful avenue for progress if monies are allocated better then in the recent past. In addition, bilateral organizations like USAID have similarly increased their resource commitments to battling the disease. In the next section of the paper, we will provide background on what USAID is, and how it has spent these funds.
In 1961, Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act, thereby creating a single agency, known as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to serve multiple development functions previously under the domain of separate organizations. The orientation of the new agency would be, as President Kennedy put it, "To prevent the social injustice and economic chaos upon which subversion and revolt feed."  The U.S. thus hoped to conflate development aid and national security interests and use USAID as a ‘soft’ weapon in the Cold War.
A good deal of literature has chronicled the evolution of USAID through the Vietnam War, the humanitarian minded reforms of the 1970s and the reassertions of Cold War primacy characteristic of the Reagan era (Lebovic 1988; Ruttan 1996.). Despite attempts to divorce the Agency from national security considerations during the Carter administration, USAID remained more or less a tool to achieve U.S. political objectives abroad throughout this time period (Ruttan 1996).
Delivery mechanisms of foreign aid did undergo some changes during the Cold War. The reforms of 1973, which established a "basic human needs" criterion in USAID’s development mission, also marked a shift towards direct budgetary assistance to developing country governments. Interestingly, despite rhetoric suggesting a move away from such promotion of the public sector, the Reagan administration did little to change this model (Eberstadt 1988; Berrios 2000). Instead, it deemphasized the ‘human needs’ portion of USAID’s mission--with the important exception of health care activities, which grew under Reagan--and reemphasized security related issues (Berrios 2000).
With the end of the Cold War arriving at the beginning of George H.W. Bush’s first term, USAID faced a transitional period that led to major changes in how it implemented foreign aid. Since USAID’s existence was largely predicated on the crucial role of foreign development assistance in winning the Cold War and protecting U.S. security interests, many in Congress saw little further need for the Agency. Foreign aid spending during the 1990s steadily declined, and conservative Congressmen, foremost among them being Senator Jesse Helms (chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee) called for USAID’s complete elimination. Helms, who famously described foreign aid as "throwing money down foreign rat holes", and his colleagues accepted a compromise: make USAID smaller, hold it accountable to the State Department and introduce private sector reforms (Berrios 2000).
The subsequent reforms enacted at USAID during the Clinton administration had the most immediate impact on the Agency’s current malaria program, and indeed, on most of its development assistance. As part of the initiative to streamline government through privatization, and make the Agency acceptable to Congress, USAID became largely a contracting organization during the early part of the 1990s. Accordingly, USAID closed 29 missions between 1994 and 1998 and began the now dominant practice of targeting private U.S. commercial firms and NGOs to carry out development work (Berrios 2000). From a political economy perspective, USAID supplanted its bygone national security constituency with an influential interest group of commercial supporters in order to ensure its continued existence. Unable to lobby for funds in Congress itself, the Agency actively beseeches its ‘partners’ to push for greater funding.
The Contracting Dilemma
Though USAID is not unique among government agencies in achieving its objectives primarily through contracting, it has drawn a great deal of criticism for its particular way of doing business. One major criticism is the Agency’s preference for large, U.S. based organizations with which it has long relationships. An analysis by Ruben Berrios in 2000 found that the contracting market structure was segmented and largely uncompetitive. Since a significant part of the supposed advantage of contracting lies in the competition for contracts, drawing from only a small pool of organizations seriously hampers the Agency and increases the possibility of rent-seeking. Berrios found that for-profit firms receive the most money from USAID, the geographic distribution of all contractors skews heavily towards the Washington DC area, and that some of the firms rely exclusively on USAID contracts to stay in business.
In line with criticisms that the USAID contracting process is tilted in favor of insiders, observers have noted that employees of USAID tend to move between agency and contracting jobs with great frequency (Stavrakis 1996; Berrios 2000; Dobbs 2001). The Research Triangle Institute, Chemonics and the Academy for Education Development are but a few of many examples of contractors actively courting former USAID employees (Stavrakis 1996; Dobbs 2001). Inside knowledge of the Agency is clearly valuable for procurement purposes. Indeed, a quick search of any international development job board shows that previous experience procuring USAID funding is a high demand skill.
Many other criticisms of the agency persist. Berg (1997) points out that consulting work typically performed by contractors, often disguised in the preferred euphemism of ‘technical assistance’, undermines the very local institutions and capacity that the aid is trying to build. Berrios (2000) notes that contractors are paid at U.S. rates for work local organizations can do much more cheaply. Indeed, for years, USAID justified its own existence by stressing that foreign aid money benefited domestic economic interests through contracts to U.S. organizations and commodity import programs for U.S. products.
Although exact figures are unclear, USAID spends a significant percentage of international development funds on domestic goods and services. Data from USAID’s Buy American Report, the best available assessment, indicates that over the last decade, between 70 and 80 percent of funding appropriations were directed to U.S. sources (Tarnoff and Nowels 2004). In gross terms, the Business Alliance for International Economic Development estimated in 1996 that foreign aid sustained 200,000 domestic jobs.
USAID is not solely responsible for choosing mainly U.S. based organizations to carry out development work. Under the act that created USAID in 1961, Congress included special guidelines to ensure that Agency funds financed goods and services of American origin. The inclusion of these ‘Buy American’ provisions remains a source of contention for many aid specialists associated with USAID. However, the Agency relies on these provisions both to ensure that its constituency of USAID-dependent contractors continues to lobby for increased funding from Congress, and to appease Agency opponents in Congress with domestic interest arguments. As a result of the benefits USAID accrues by complying these provisions, USAID has refrained from advocating for changes to the Buy American guidelines, nor has it aggressively utilized the exceptions to these rules provided by law.
Reluctance to challenge the status quo on use of American goods and services is typified by the behavior of former USAID Administrator Brian Atwood. After leaving the Agency, Atwood told the Washington Post that the Buy American procurement laws were "the biggest headache I had to deal with" at the Agency (Dobbs 2001). Yet during Atwood’s tenure, in all of his appearances before Congress and statements to the press concerning his initiative to reform USAID (including its procurement policies), he made no mention of his Buy American migraine. In fact, in 1995 he boasted to a Senate subcommittee that he "introduced reforms to open up USAID's procurement to the best expertise in America", but omitted any reference to non-American sources. During that same testimony, he blatantly endorsed the Buy-American policy, stating, "Foreign assistance is far from charity, it is an investment in American jobs, American business."
Atwood’s actions are unsurprising. The political capital bought with USAID’s approval of the Buy American rules continues to override concerns over the tying of aid to U.S. interests. Unlike President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) head Randall Tobias, who bluntly announced before Congress his intention to waive Buy American requirements for anti-retroviral treatment, no USAID official has similarly conveyed to Congress its desire to sidestep these rules.
Transparency and Criticism
A final, but significant, criticism of USAID contracting policy concerns the transparency of the process. USAID policy forbids the disclosure of "proprietary" information related to its contracts, which keeps the financial details of the bidding process--including the identity of non-winning bidders, specific subcontracting arrangements, and even general budget documents--hidden from public view. In addition to such proprietary information, general facts about Agency policies and procedures are likewise off-limits to the general public. In response to a request for information regarding evaluation procedures, a USAID-Kenya employee explained the rules: "I’m unable to respond to your queries due to strict Agency policy of sharing USAID information with people or sources we are NOT familiar with." 
In addition to its internal informational controls, USAID disapproves of contractors who disagree with or criticize the Agency. Stavrakis (1996) notes that the Health Enterprise Institute (HEI), which depended solely on USAID for funding, ceased operations because "HEI bumped heads with AID and went out of business." For fear of losing future contracts, few employees of organizations receiving funding from USAID were willing to go on the record with their criticisms when interviewed by the authors. The same is true for USAID employees, who have been known to have career paths derailed after publicly criticizing their employer. Thus, it continues to be extremely difficult for outsiders to know what USAID does, let alone offer suggestions for improvement.
The importance of USAID in Global Health Policy
Before examining how USAID uses its malaria funding, it is important to briefly note why the significance of its actions exceed the annual sum that Congress earmarks for malaria activities. The ‘multiplier effect’ of USAID policy and programming decisions can often be more substantial than the Agency’s direct action.
Like many American agencies, USAID is a trendsetter. Though its leadership role is more subtle than in the days when U.S. funding and expertise dominated the WHO’s malaria eradication campaign, American contributions still constitute a quarter of the organization’s budget (U.S. Dept of State 2003). Even more importantly, as the world’s most powerful nation, U.S. input continues to be the single most important unilateral influence on global health policy (Kickbusch 2002). Former WHO employee and current head of the Division of Global Health at Yale University, Ilona Kickbusch, claims that U.S. support for global health initiatives is so crucial that "many international documents read as if they have been written for members of the U.S. Congress rather than for the broader global health community" (134). As the development arm of the U.S. government, whose financial and political support is crucial for global health programs, USAID thus has considerable input in designing policies and strategies for such initiatives. In malaria policy, USAID was a key player in the design of the present RBM initiative and continues to exert its influence in policy formulation. Thus, strategic and operational improvements undertaken at USAID will upgrade the whole RBM movement.
In addition to its impact on global health agencies, USAID acts as a role model for private lending. Private donors to international causes--whose giving triples official U.S. government assistance--look to USAID as the arbiter of what programs and interventions are acceptable to fund. Corporations, who value the good publicity generated from their charitable contributions, are wary of crossing swords with official U.S. development policy. ExxonMobil, for instance, explicitly endorses RBM and funnels its $1.5 million contribution to the battle against malaria through USAID-affiliated ITN programs. Thus, the path that USAID chooses in its efforts to combat malaria has far greater consequences than its Congressional earmark.
IV. SAVING LIVES, ONE CONSULTANT AT A TIME
The following section describes the organization, composition and results of USAID’s malaria funding. It first bears noting that obtaining this information proved extremely challenging. Part of the difficulty stems from the Agency’s ignorance of its fractured and disorganized malaria programs. The biggest obstacle, however, is USAID’s unwillingness to share information with outsiders. The Agency’s transparency deficiency is evident not only in its refusal to release details of the contracts it uses to allocate its $80 million malaria endowment, but also in the vague and ambiguous information it does provide. USAID’s secretive behavior over information unrelated to national security leaves a strong impression that opacity is its intention.
A further complication attendant in researching USAID uses of funding is the Agency’s well deserved reputation for skirting established regulatory guidelines and exploiting exemptions to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) guidelines to its advantage. A veteran Department of Defense employee who came to work at USAID confided that he was "shocked" by the manner in which Agency employees used the FAR’s emergency exceptions to avoid proper procedure in cases that clearly did not warrant special treatment. The lack of continuity between government policy and Agency practice is troublesome and difficult to elucidate in an atmosphere where employees do not feel comfortable openly criticizing the organization’s actions.
Finally, some of the information gathered here came as a result of Congressional pressure on USAID to explain where its malaria money is being spent. The pressure began in February 2004 when Senators Judd Gregg and Russ Feingold, reacting to articles in the British medical journal Lancet  and the Wall Street Journal, called for an investigation into USAID’s malaria funding upon learning that the Agency bucked its own policies by declining to back effectual drugs (i.e ACTs). In October, two Congressional hearings later, now retired assistant Administrator Anne Peterson was embarrassed by Senator Sam Brownback when she proved unable to account for how USAID spent the $80 million it received for malaria in 2004.
As a result of the efforts of independent scientists and organizations, and the subsequent interest demonstrated by Congress, in December of 2004 USAID distributed, to those who had made inquiries, the most comprehensive breakdown to date of its malaria allocations. The report, titled "USAID Malaria Programs 2004", offers only short, vague descriptions of line item activities, and does not identify the ‘partners’ (contractors and grantees) responsible for implementing enumerated programs. It also contains numerous errors and omissions. Most disturbingly, funding breakdowns contain mathematical errors. The stated subtotals do not sum to the total figure given for malaria spending.
A Blind Hydra: The Organization and Process of USAID Funding
The fractured and confusing organization of USAID’s malaria efforts constitutes a key obstacle to focused and effective programming. USAID manages resource constraints by diffusing funds thinly across numerous countries, which hampers efforts to make significant strides in any one place. In addition, program structures skew heavily towards the near exclusive involvement of large U.S. based NGOs and contractors, which leaves little hope for the sustainable outcomes and the building of local capacity that USAID claims to support. Finally, USAID sustains and compounds problems of disorganization by its lack of transparency.
How USAID Receives and Distributes Funds Internally
Each year, Congress earmarks a specific sum for USAID to spend on malaria. Reflecting greater concern with rising malaria mortality rates, that sum has increased from nearly $14 million in 1998 to $80 million in 2004, and now represents approximately six percent of the Agency’s total 2004 budget request for Child Survival and Health (CSH) Programs. USAID officials allocate funds to the central office and individual country and regional bureaus (see Table 1 for funding breakdowns). Funds diverted to the central office in Washington, known as the global bureau, are ostensibly for activities beyond the scope of specific countries and for which individual bureaus have no incentive to invest. These include research, such as the $7,260,000 spent on malaria vaccine development in 2004, transnational policy reform, such as working on continental barriers to pharmaceutical imports, and provision of Washington-based ‘backstoppers’ in support of field programs.
The rest of the money goes to regional bureaus, which divide it between individual country missions. In 2004, Africa received the most malaria funding, with a total of $40,710,000. A small percentage of those funds go to regional offices (e.g. the African regional bureau, the West African region etc.), which are supposed to coordinate and strengthen regional programs, and occasionally operate in countries that do not house a USAID mission (e.g. Burkina Faso). USAID allocates funds to countries and regions after a discussion and negotiation process, in which each mission lobbies for funding in accordance with its stated strategic goals.
The distribution of funding by country breaks up rather evenly. In Africa, where malaria money is divided between 20 countries and 3 regional offices, funding for both averages $1.8 million. For all the individual country and regional offices across the globe, the average allotment is an even smaller $1.5 million. Such a thin-but-wide disbursement strategy is highly dubious. It limits program options within each country and prevents large investments in successful programs. Diffuse funding does however support a large number of missions, and their well compensated staff, and gives a superficial indication of USAID’s global pervasiveness with regard to malaria control.
Methods of Funding
After securing its annual funding, each mission (i.e. USAID country field office) must then budget its malaria monies. One option is to buy into existing contracts managed by the central USAID office. These contracts, known as Indefinite Quantity Contracts (IQCs), obligate the contractor to perform a specific scope of work for the global bureau in Washington, but also include a mechanism for individual country offices to purchase services.
Missions may also negotiate directly with eligible agencies. Such direct bilateral
mechanisms are becoming increasingly popular with USAID missions that prefer the flexibility to set their own guidelines. Due to high management costs and personnel shortages at many missions, missions generally reserve bilateral contracts for projects with longer life spans, and buy-ins used for short term needs.
When a country, regional or global bureau negotiates funding with an outside agency, it must follow reasonably standard guidelines. Three types of funding agreements for these transactions exist: grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements (CAs). These three vary according to their level of specificity. Grants are made to an organization for a specific purpose and activity. They are the least prevalent funding mechanism. Contracts are more popular than grants and are generally also used for specific activities. These may be procurement related--as in a deal to buy a certain number of condoms from a producer--but are more often for a particular service, such as consulting with a local health ministry on a particular drug policy issue. Finally, the most pervasive type of agreement, CAs, are employed when USAID has specified a general area of work needed in a particular location(s), but not the intricacies of how the work will be undertaken.
The types of programs funded under these three mechanisms can be further divided into two broad, permeable categories: 1) direct Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) programs and 2) global technical projects. The first consists of grants and contracts awarded to PVOs--non-profit organizations based almost exclusively in the US--for various field projects. These are usually funded through specific contracts or grants, often with a specific mission. PVO programs, however, comprised only 24% of total USAID spending in 2003 (USAID 2005a). USAID funnels much of the PVO award money to a few large agencies, such as AED and MSH.
The other general type of programming–global technical projects--usually involves more generalized work centered on cooperation with national and district level governments and government agencies. These programs aim to improve policies related to malaria control activities and strengthen health and health management systems. Funded by either contracts or CAs--usually the latter--such programs typically consist of sending U.S. consultants to advise health ministries on ways to implement better drug policies, improve human resources, increase efficiency through better management. Occasionally consultants oversee specific health projects and train selected workers. Depending on the activity, PVOs may execute global technical projects, as well.
Organizational Problems: Data and Monitoring
Data on USAID development contracts and projects is scant. According to a U.S. General Accountability Office (2002) report, the Agency simply does not bother gathering such information: "USAID does not collect financial data that would allow a detailed funding analysis for any specific type of nongovernmental organizations except PVOs" (7). In addition, the report found more general accounting problems contributing to the information lapse: "The Agency’s data on its use of PVOs and NGOs were not complete due to the disparate accounting systems and limitations in its data-coding procedures" (7). Existing information is "plagued by data entry flaws, and organizations are frequently categorized incorrectly" (7).
USAID’s data shortfalls are widespread. According to the Agency’s website, the number of evaluations submitted to its document repository for all projects has declined from 529 in 1994 to 135 in 2003 (USAID 2005b). The decline in evaluations stems primarily from an Agency rule change enacted during the reforms of the Clinton Administration that eliminated reporting obligations from recipients of USAID money (Weber 2004). Whereas previously USAID mandated that every program must generate a midterm and final report, the rule change allowed program managers the flexibility to negotiate the monitoring and evaluation components of each programs with funding recipients on a case by case basis. Originally intended to save needless paperwork and give program staff more flexibility, the relaxation of requirements has simply resulted in less information on program performance.
According to an internal review of USAID’s evaluation experience by Janice Weber (2004), past recommendations for improving the evaluation system have been ignored by the Agency, and current evaluation practice is rife with impropriety. The report notes that the quality of current evaluations has deteriorated substantially due to "a system that only rewards success (thus, the overwhelming majority of self-graded, fully successful SOs [strategic objectives]), rather than rewarding an honest assessment" (14; parentheses preserved from source). Other critics have noted similar weaknesses. Clements’ (1999) investigation of USAID program reports found favorable portrayals of failed projects, use of measurement criteria unrelated to program impacts, and whitewashing of legitimate concerns. Positive bias in evaluations and assessment is particularly problematic when reviews are conducted by, or with considerable input from, the partner carrying the particular project.
Further, according to Weber, Missions (USAID’s field offices) have been known to deny country clearance to Global bureau evaluators in order to cover up program deficiencies or other problems. She also suggests that program officers or evaluators will even insert proprietary information into evaluations, or deceptively categorize them as ‘assessments’, in order to avoid submitting these documents to the public domain. Weber stresses that her key recommendations (requiring submission of evaluations, withholding payment to partners/Missions who do not submit evaluations to the public domain, regularly using external evaluators, reemphasizing exchange of information with other agencies) are not new ideas, but ones that Senior Management has ignored for the past decade.
USAID’s informational shortfalls are particularly disturbing considering the Agency’s disparate structure. Without good centralized information sources, effective cooperation between USAID’s many heads is nearly impossible. Multiple funding mechanisms increase the confusion and decrease the ability of well-intentioned employees and partners to make a comprehensive review of agency efforts. As documented by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) report, USAID’s lack of data on the types of organizations it funds and the funding mechanism it employs makes it impossible for the agency to effectively evaluate what works best (GAO 2002:10, 20). The inability--as well as the unwillingness--to evaluate one’s own performance seriously impairs the process of designing effective programs for the future. It also casts grave doubts on the Agency’s ability to make effective use of additional funds.
In addition to undermining USAID’s potential for effectively evaluating its use of funds, the combination of an unnecessarily complex organizational structure and inadequate information on internal activities hinders cooperation amongst USAID contracting partners and other development agencies. Without a centralized source of reasonably detailed information on existing activities, there is little hope that other organizations might fill in gaps left by USAID activities. This point is especially salient with regard to malaria, for which USAID takes a narrow approach to programming.
Pathways to Unsustainable Outcomes
Another problematic element of USAID’s organizational structure concerns the nearly exclusive employment of U.S. based organizations for its development work. Utilizing primarily U.S. and Western NGOs to carry out development work usually has a deleterious effect on prospects for sustainable capacity building. When local organizations do not have stewardship over health projects, there is little chance that they will continue after the implementing NGO leaves. That’s not surprising, considering that the incentive structure inherent in USAID’s contracting model promotes dependence on outside institutions. Few organizations--both for profit and non-profit--can be expected to legitimately work towards creating an environment that no longer requires their existence. Yet so many USAID projects, like the recently minted $250 million grant given to North Carolina’s Intrahealth and eight other US-based subcontractors for work on building health care capacity in developing countries, ask partner organizations to attain goals that would render these outfits obsolete. Especially in malaria programming, where USAID’s stated strategy consists of "reducing the burden of malaria by helping countries develop the capacity to more effectively prevent and appropriately treat malaria", the nearly exclusive use of U.S. organizations is a recipe for failure (USAID 2005).
USAID has made some rhetorical commitments to integrating local institutions in its development work. Most notably, Vice President Al Gore’s New Partnership Initiative (NPI), launched in 1995, suggested "enhancing the impact of the Mission's active involvement with local stakeholders (USAID 1997). However, as evidenced most clearly in the unchanged level of funding dedicated to U.S. organizations (approximately 75 percent since 1995), application of that principle has been lacking. Snook (1999) quotes a USAID contractor and a USAID mission employee in Tanzania describing how NPI worked in the field:
[According to the contractor], the effort to bring beneficiaries [i.e. locals] in as stakeholders and partners was not working because the ‘partners’ don’t have time for all the endless meetings. Decisions were still made in advance. The ‘partners’ are invited in to rubber stamp the decision, to demonstrate "partnership"...[According to an official at the Tanzanian USAID mission,] ‘The Tanzanians are brought in at the end to stand there and nod yes’. (97).
Such behavior can hardly be construed as strengthening local capacity.
Another indication that NPI is more rhetoric than action is the continued priority given to big contractors like Population Services International (PSI), Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and AED. Theses organizations typically have little connection to local civic groups within the community, and do not emphasize developing such relationships. Yet programs like the Child Survival and Health Grants Program (CSHGP), which funds NGOs who do work with local groups, have not seen funding increases despite the significant rise in USAID’s health budget.
Reforming the near-exclusive use of large U.S. and Western organizations will be difficult so long as the Agency’s current funding structure remains in place. Further, the imperiled status of USAID during the 1990s seems to have made the Agency unhealthily fearful of juicy press accounts detailing how a local organization embezzled U.S. aid dollars. As Hyden and Mease (1999: 222) describe, "USAID has been caught squarely in the accountability trap", meaning that the Agency would rather allocate its monies to U.S. organizations likely to waste a good portion of it but steal none, rather than local institutions that are in a better position to effectively use resources but are more vulnerable to instances of fraud and embezzlement (Bate and Schwab 2005).
Despite these obstacles, recent developments offer hope for much needed change. With unprecedented fervor, the current administration has supported foreign aid projects, such as the $15 billion PEPFAR initiative, without appealing to arguments based on the benefits that will accrue to domestic interests. Further, threats from terrorism, and concerns over a tarnished American image abroad, have spurned a renewed interest in humanitarian projects abroad. Thus, the present political climate appears amenable to altering the practice of excluding local groups.
Summary of Organizational Issues
The complex layers of internal bureaucracy and varied types of funding mechanisms have engendered an incoherent and ineffective framework for operating a successful malaria program. Currently, the manner in which malaria funds are used by USAID suffers from weaknesses in both organization and process. The fractured geographical distribution of resources prevents USAID from accomplishing substantial work in any one country.
Scattered resource allocation likewise promotes diffuse accountability. Disseminating funding across wide breadths of countries and through multiple avenues of contracting agreements relieves individual USAID officials operating in various missions of the responsibility for general failures. Similarly, the Washington based malaria team, with little actual control over funding decisions, avoids overall culpability. No matter how well intentioned and talented these officials are, success rarely results from such an arrangement.
The combination of USAID’s diffuse structure and inability to develop a comprehensive internal information network limits effective cooperation and hinders efficient program development. Informational deficiencies at the Agency are severe. Data regarding its own projects and financial commitments are grossly inadequate both for designing effective projects based on past experiences and managing existing ones. In addition, no one branch of USAID has full knowledge of activities occurring in other branches, which severely limits the potential for effective coordination with other aid agencies .
Finally, the predominance of U.S. based organizations contracted as project implementers undermines the Agency’s capacity building approach to health problems, particularly malaria. Sustainable results are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain when foreign organizations maintain primary stewardship of development projects. Thus far, scant evidence exists to suggest that USAID’s rhetoric espousing the increased involvement of local institutions is being applied.
V. MONEY FOR MALARIA: HOW IS IT BEING USED?
Thus far we’ve examined the historical arc of malaria control activities, the institutional history of USAID and its current structural organization. The recurrent themes of organizational weakness, lack of coordination, informational deficiencies, ineffective programming, unsustainable outcomes, poor leadership and slow, overly cautious and incomprehensible decision making overtly manifest themselves in USAID’s malaria control program.
Words, Not Butter (Medicine, Insecticides or Bednets)
With regards to malaria control, the strategy USAID has adopted can best be described as an extreme capacity approach. According to the official USAID malaria website, the Agency is committed to fighting malaria by helping countries "build the capacity" to prevent and treat the disease (USAID 2005d). The phrasing is no accident; for the most part, USAID does not use its funds to help countries directly fight malaria.
Thanks to the recently issued "USAID Malaria Programs 2004,"  for the first time it is now possible to determine how this capacity approach manifests itself in funding decisions. The results are striking. Of the $80 million Congress allocated to USAID to fight malaria in 2004, USAID used only approximately $4 million to purchase life saving interventions. That’s an estimated 5% of total malaria funding spent on the mechanisms proven to prevent and treat malaria: IRS chemicals and equipment, medicines and ITNs, with most going towards the latter. USAID did not spend any money on insecticides or ACTs.
Determining how USAID used the rest of the money is much more difficult. Besides the $10.5 million dedicated to researching and testing a malaria vaccine and new malaria drugs, USAID utilized the remaining funds mainly for activities such as "technical assistance", "strengthening capacity", "policy revision" and "social marketing of ITNs". Details of these funding allocations are absent since the report declines to provide adequate descriptions, or even the names of each activity’s ‘implementing partner’(i.e. contractor or grantee).
According to USAID officials consulted for this paper, phrases like "technical assistance" and "capacity building" refer mainly to hiring consultants, based predominately in the US, to advise government ministries on relevant policy and management issues. Sometimes, training of local staff plays an integral role in these activities.
Reports of spending in Ghana reflect typical allocation patterns. In that country, USAID allocated $200,000 for "direct technical assistance to [sic] Government of Ghana supporting transition of ACTs", including training local drug regulators. That sum was also used to "build capacity of local private sector drug manufacturers and strengthen drug quality monitoring." An additional $200,000 line item is allocated to another popular spending destination, "malaria in pregnancy." The description for this activity reads, "Provide direct support to policy revision that included introduction of intermittent preventive therapy [IPT] for pregnant woman during routine antenatal visits." As in nearly every description in the USAID report, no indication of the manner of "support" (or "assistance", "strengthening" etc...) is provided. What is certain, however, is that USAID did not use the funds to buy the medicine that IPT uses to protect pregnant women from malaria.
Allocations to ITN-related activities represent another common destination for USAID funding. USAID and the rest of the RBM community have identified ITNs as the most crucial prevention mechanism for reducing the malaria burden. USAID funds this intervention under the auspices of its Netmark Plus program, a "$65.4 million dollar project designed to reduce the impact of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa through the increased use and sustainable supply of insecticide treated mosquito nets (ITNs), and insecticide treatments kits for nets, through partnership and joint investment with more than 20 multinational and African commercial partners" (AED 2002)
Netmark is mainly an ITN-selling program. Therefore, it promotes the use, distribution, and retreatment of nets, but spends little money providing funding for their purchase by those at risk for malaria. That strategy, while offering hope for a sustainable impact, often results in inefficient allocation decisions by USAID. In Senegal, for example, a 2000 Netmark survey funded by USAID found that half of respondents who did not own a net cited the inability to afford one as their reason for non-ownership (AED 2001). Only 10% said that nets were not available or they did not know where to get them. Yet in 2004, USAID