USAID Retracts Request for ‘Positive Images’ of Work in Afghanistan

After posting a contract for a flattering photographer Monday, the agency pulled its request.

Soldiers with the United States Army's 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment are seen on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army prepare for a joint patrol with near Command Outpost Siah Choy on March 28, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Zhari District, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 14, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

The U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tion­al De­vel­op­ment — which has faced ac­cus­a­tions of mis­man­age­ment and waste with its fund­ing in Afgh­anistan — re­cently can­celed a con­tract for “at­tract­ive visu­al im­ages” about its work in the war-torn coun­try.

The re­quest — which the agency pos­ted Monday — has since been taken off USAID’s web­site. But the agency called for “timely, at­tract­ive visu­al im­ages,” not­ing that in Afgh­anistan “neg­at­ive im­ages flood both so­cial and con­ven­tion­al me­dia with little counter,” ac­cord­ing to a cached Web page of the re­quest.

The Spe­cial In­spect­or Gen­er­al for Afgh­anistan Re­con­struc­tion sorts through the more than $100 bil­lion in fund­ing the United States has al­loc­ated to re­con­struc­tion and re­lief ef­forts in the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to an audit re­leased last month, USAID agreed to give dir­ect as­sist­ance to sev­en Afghan min­is­tries des­pite de­term­in­ing that “it could not rely on the min­is­tries it as­sessed to man­age donor funds without a host of mit­ig­a­tion meas­ures in place.”

Don­ald Sampler Jr., USAID’s as­sist­ant to the ad­min­is­trat­or for the Of­fice of Afgh­anistan and Pakistan Af­fairs, said Monday that while the me­dia provides an ac­cur­ate — but lim­ited — view of USAID’s work in the coun­try, he ex­pects “the re­port­ing will con­tin­ue to be some­what neg­at­ive.”

His com­ments echo the agency’s re­quest for the pho­to­graphy pro­pos­als, which notes that “the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of pic­tures re­cord­ing that ef­fort are neg­at­ive and at least to some ex­tent mis­lead­ing.”

The Web page doesn’t note how much an in­di­vidu­al would be paid for the pho­to­graphs.

A spokes­man for USAID told USA Today that the pho­to­graphs are sup­posed to “help in­form Afghans about the as­sist­ance Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers are provid­ing,” but ac­know­ledged that “the word­ing of the [re­quest] did not ap­pro­pri­ately ar­tic­u­late that pur­pose and is be­ing ree­valu­ated.”

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