Report language in the Omnibus budget bill is intended to rein in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Partner Vetting System (PVS). With the insertion of this paragraph, once the PVS pilot program is completed, USAID and the U.S. Department of State may not implement similar programs unless required to respond to existing security threats. In addition, Congress would have to be consulted before the agencies begin new vetting programs or implement changes to existing programs.
PVS and the State Department’s Risk Analysis and Management (RAM) pilot programs have created roadblocks in non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) work to deliver humanitarian aid or do peacebuilding work in conflict zones. They also “threaten to harm relationships between U.S.-based NGOs and their local partners,” according to a recent blog by Sam Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, which created the Omnibus language and lobbied for its inclusion.
PVS and RAM pilot programs require NGOs to collect personal information from local partners, to be vetted against U.S. intelligence databases for possible connections to terrorism. “This could lead communities to suspect complicity between intelligence and U.S. NGOs, inflame conspiracy theories, and shatter trust fostered between NGOs and local partners,” Worthington said.
The Omnibus report language directs USAID and State, in carrying out the PVS pilot program, to include a direct vetting option that does not require prime awardees to collect, verify or submit sub-awardee data. All individuals vetted through the pilot must be able to obtain information on how data is used by the U.S. government. Once the pilot program is completed, its report must include recommendations for standardizing and streamlining vetting processes; consideration of exemptions for humanitarian and democracy assistance; analysis of privacy and data protection concerns; a description of consultations with governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders affected by the pilot program; and responses to concerns raised during these consultations.
“There needs to be a better balance between safety and an NGOs ability to effectively do its job,” Worthington said.