A group of leading government transparency organizations sent a letter supporting the Charity & Security Network’s (C&SN) Transparency and Accountability Procedures for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Oct. 1, 2013. C&SN’s proposal urged specific reforms to OFAC, an office inside Treasury which processes requests for licenses for humanitarian aid organizations working in areas with groups or governments on the terrorist list. The letter states that “An open and transparent process would provide more guidance to the public, promote even-handed enforcement and ensure that OFAC responds quickly when humanitarian crises occur.”
U.S. law prohibits any U.S. person or organization, including humanitarian groups, from engaging in transactions with a listed terrorist group. However, when responding to humanitarian crises, as a practical matter, NGOs must often conduct logistical and incidental financial transactions, such as the payment of road tolls, to get access to civilians. In order to do this legally, they must request a license from OFAC.
The current process for OFAC to grant these licenses is slow, opaque and sometimes ends with a denial of the license with little or no explanation. According to the letter, “many civil society organizations working in conflict zones …have complained that OFAC takes months, or even years to issue a response to license requests, and often denies them based on arbitrary reasoning. In some cases charities cannot obtain the name and contact information for the OFAC official processing their request.”
Signers of the letter included the Center for Effective Government, Center for Media and Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, The Constitution Project, Government Accountability Project , James Madison Project, Liberty Coalition, National Coalition Against Censorship, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight, Society of American Archivists, and the Sunlight Foundation.
C&SN sent proposed reforms to OFAC in July 2013, urging OFAC to establish clearly defined standards for NGOs applying for a license, timetables for responding to an application, and explanations for any application that is rejected. “An open and transparent process would provide more guidance to the public, promote even-handed enforcement and ensure that OFAC responds quickly when humanitarian crises occur, saving lives in the process,” said the Oct. 1 letter.
More on C&SN’s proposal to OFAC can be found here.