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Investigators warn years of U.S. aid to Palestine failed to screen for terrorist recipients

GAO red flags come as President Biden ramps of aid to Palestinians.

Updated: April 3, 2021 - 11:33pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

As President Biden ramps up aid to the Palestinians, the Government Accountability Office is warning that prior U.S. financing to the region wasn't adequately screened for terrorist recipients.

In its new report, GAO notes that the United States "has provided assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to promote Middle East peace since 1993," with part of that funding coming from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. 

The agency has in place "antiterrorism policy and procedures for the West Bank and Gaza program," specifically provisions ensuring "vetting for many non-U.S. recipients of assistance, antiterrorism certifications for recipients of grants or cooperative agreements, and mandatory provisions intended to prevent financial support to terrorism in all prime awards and sub-awards." 

The GAO report said that, over the course of fiscal years 2015-2019, USAID enforced all three of those policies when allocating "prime awards," but that it "did not consistently ensure that sub-awards were in compliance."

Specifically, the GAO said it found that "USAID did not ensure that prime awardees included mandatory provisions in their sub-awards that required sub-awardees to attest that the organization does not provide material support or resources for terrorism."

Funding for the program ceased in 2019. The report argues that USAID should establish protocols to ensure that any awardees or sub-awardees in its aid program meet its requirements for its antiterrorism policies.

"Without effective compliance procedures in place, USAID may be at risk of providing assistance to entities or individuals associated with terrorism," said GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. 

Reached for comment over the weekend, a USAID spokeswoman said the organization "takes seriously its commitment to ensuring American taxpayer funds are spent as intended and do not inadvertently support entities or individuals associated with terrorism. We appreciate the GAO’s assistance as we continuously work to improve our oversight of these important programs."

"It is important to note that the GAO report found no cases of USAID funding to parties who failed vetting," she added. "Additionally, while all of our prime awards fully complied with antiterrorism policies and procedures, we are already taking steps to increase oversight of sub-awardees in the future. Specifically, all future contract applicants will need to submit policies and procedures to ensure sub-awardee compliance with antiterrorism requirements."

"To ensure these procedures are followed, the USAID Mission at the West Bank and Gaza will conduct compliance reviews of prime and sub-awardees within the first 18 months of program implementation."

The GAO report comes as the Biden administration and USAID are gearing up to restore aid to Palestine after the Trump administration paused such financing in 2019.

The State Department and USAID notified Congress this week that they are preparing to deliver a fresh wave of $125 million in aid to Palestinian recipients. USAID did not clarify just when those funds would be going out. 

The Biden administration is also reportedly disbursing $15 million in pandemic relief for Palestinians. 

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