Illustrative Results

A Tricky Balance: NGO Programs and Counter-Terrorism

A famine hits but no one can act. We need your trust and a partnership, but do you trust us enough to send your personal data to the U.S. government? What is the right balance between effective programs and the need for counter-terrorism rules? In areas controlled by sanctioned groups how can private organizations implement life-saving programs?

During the Somalia famine, many of the people most in need were under the control of a sanctioned group, Al-Shabaab. Humanitarian NGOs had a hard time getting authorization to respond, and it took months for the U.S. government to allow life-saving assistance. Sadly, this delay contributed to the deaths of over 200,000 Somalis. U.S. government officials have assured InterAction that this experience would not be repeated. New U.S. Department of the Treasury guidance includes rapid review of humanitarian license applications. This is a positive step, but we must go further to prevent a repeat of Somalia.

U.S. government rules to limit terrorism should not impinge on the appropriate roles of local civil society and U.S. NGOs.

For eight years InterAction has pushed for a better solution, but the U.S. government recently launched a partner vetting program to avoid any funding from going to terrorist groups. The program requires NGOs to collect and disclose personal data about the personnel of agencies and subcontractors in order to receive USAID and State Department grants and contracts. This requirement could shift perceptions of NGOs from assistance providers to intelligence gatherers. Since NGOs already screen local partners through a robust process including talking with community leaders and checking names against databases, InterAction has made its objections clear. A direct U.S. NGO role in government vetting efforts can harm field programs and encourage other governments to impose restrictive rules. U.S. government rules to limit terrorism should not impinge on the appropriate roles of local civil society and U.S. NGOs.

InterAction is pushing hard to find reasonable solutions that work for NGOs: solutions that limit the governmental scrutiny of NGO programming efforts which is decreasing the ability of civil society to operate. Working with our members, we understand the relevant concerns and make every effort to ensure that charitable funds are delivered to those in need and are not diverted to unsavory actors. But when the rules go too far, InterAction works closely with members to relay concerns, share information, and advocate for changes in these and other anti-terror policies.

Photo: Valarie Johnson