WASHINGTON – A leading Democratic critic of the Bush administration's Cuba policy on Wednesday promised hearings next year on a new report citing weaknesses in the government's program promoting democracy in Cuba.
"The conclusions are disturbing to say the least," Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., said of the report finding that U.S. Agency for International Development did not always properly oversee Cuban aid grants and that coordination with the State Department was sometimes ineffective.
Delahunt requested the Government Accountability Office study with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another strong advocate of ending the four-decade-old policy, strengthened by the administration, of opposing the Castro regime through economic sanctions and restrictions on travel and personal contacts.
"To continue the current level of funding given the results and given the disarray this program seems to be in would be a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars," said Flake.
When Democrats gain the majority in the next Congress, Delahunt will be chairman of the House International Relations oversight and investigation subcommittee, putting him in a position to convene hearings on Cuba.
The GAO report found that in the past decade USAID awarded 40 grants or cooperative agreements totaling $65 million and the State Department four grants worth $8 million to support democratic progress in Cuba. USAID provided 385,000 pounds of medicine, food and clothing, more than 23,000 shortwave radios and millions of books, newsletters and other informational material.
It said dissidents interviewed by the GAO in Cuba said they appreciated the assistance.
But it also found that 95 percent of USAID's total awards were made in response to unsolicited proposals, that reviews of grantees were not always finished before awards were granted and that the agency did not adequately follow up on grants to ensure accountability.
"We performed limited testing on 10 grantees and identified questionable expenditures and significant internal control weaknesses with three grantees that USAID had not detected," authors of the report said.
Flake and Delahunt, while acknowledging the difficulty of delivering material to dissidents in Cuba, cited one finding in the report that it takes anywhere from $4 to $20 to get humanitarian or material assistance to the island.
"It may be closer to four cents a pound," if the administration lifted its restrictions on family visits and travel to Cuba, Delahunt said. "This really cries for a more thorough review of policy as opposed to just simply focusing on the findings and looking at it as an auditing problem."
USAID chief financial officer Lisa Fiely, in a letter to the GAO, said her agency had already taken steps to comply with its recommendations and, while "taking issue with some findings in the draft report, we will seek to improve agency performance in managing, monitoring and evaluating this assistance."