|CONVERSATION: ANDREW NATSIOS|
December 27, 2005
Andrew Natsios, who is stepping down from his post as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) next month, discusses his five years overseeing disaster recovery efforts.
GWEN IFILL: War and peace, floods and earthquakes, famine and AIDS. From Afghanistan and Iraq, to Pakistan and Darfur, U.S. foreign policy has come to focus during the last four years on fixing broken things.
But carrying on major reconstruction projects in the midst of insurgency and disaster has proven to be time consuming and costly. Congress has approved nearly $21 billion in reconstruction for Iraq since 2003, and $9.2 billion for Afghanistan since 2001.
In spite of frequent reports of cost overruns and security-related delays, President Bush has defended the U.S. Reconstruction effort in Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In the space of two-and-a-half years, we have helped Iraqis conduct nearly 3,000 renovation projects at schools, train more than 30,000 teachers, distribute more than eight million textbooks, rebuild irrigation infrastructure to help more than 400,000 rural Iraqis, and improve drinking water for more than three million people.
GWEN IFILL: The U.S. Agency for International Development, or U.S. AID, has been at the center of these efforts, hiring contractors, negotiating with foreign governments, and coordinating humanitarian relief.
The postwar projects in Iraq and Afghanistan are the largest U.S. aid efforts since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II.
U.S. AID has also provided technical assistance for running elections in both countries.
For the last five years, the agency has been run by Andrew Natsios, the grandson of Greek immigrants and a former Republican state lawmaker from Massachusetts. On his watch, the agency's budget has grown from $7 billion in 2002, to $14 billion in 2004.
Natsios' job includes international relief efforts in the war-torn Darfur region and, more recently, in disaster- stricken countries from Pakistan to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Natsios has announced he will leave AID next month.
|Multiple challenges in a post 9/11 world|
GWEN IFILL: And Andrew Natsios joins us now.
You have had a full plate in your years on the job. I wonder what you now, looking back on it, think -- looking back on it think of as the major challenge.
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, we had multiple challenges simultaneously. In Washington, no matter what agency you're dealing with, has trouble sometimes dealing with ten crises at the same time with a limited staff and a limited budget.
But the president has doubled -- nearly doubled AID's budget, and so we've had a lot more money than we've had at any time in the recent past. President Bush has actually 21 foreign aid initiatives, the most since Jack Kennedy. And this has been the largest increase in official development assistance in 45 years.
GWEN IFILL: But has the job changed since 9/11?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Oh, it certainly has. We've had to do long-term development which we've been doing for a very long time. We have to deal with the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Africa where the president has dramatically increased spending through his initiative working with Ambassador Randy Tobias.
And then while all that is happening, we had the genocide take place in Darfur, the Naivasha peace accords between North and South Sudan.
So instead of doing humanitarian relief in southern Sudan we're now doing reconstruction. And then all of this is happening; we had the war start in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: I was going to ask you about that. Is there a distinction that you draw between the kinds of work you had to do because of wars and the kinds of work you have to do because of disasters?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, there are different phases in this. One is we have a term we use, "fragile states." Fragile states are countries that are moving into failed states that have sort of collapsed.
Once they collapse then you have to do humanitarian relief just to keep people alive.
And then some countries come out of it like Afghanistan, which is what we call a "recovering state."
And so there are some countries in the category of like Zimbabwe sliding fast into catastrophe and then there are countries like Somalia, which has not had a national government in 15 years now; and then there are countries like Afghanistan and Iraq that are recovering.
And then there are countries that are doing very well like a Ghana or a Mali or Mozambique that are models of reform, of good governance, of democracy. And we're trying to actually catch up with their leaders who are way out in front of us. And they keep asking us for more help. We're trying to do that -- or a country like Jordan, for example, where King Abdullah is one of the most reformed-minded people in the Middle East.
|Recovery from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq|
GWEN IFILL: You've mentioned Afghanistan. Let's start by about talking about that. You've had your critics on Afghanistan. There's the schools and the clinics program which has come under some criticism by the inspector general. And they have said that there was supposed to be $73 million to schools and clinics and out of that money that has been spent only 140 schools and clinics have been built. Why is that?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, that was for one six-month period I think a year-and-a-half ago. You have to look at the whole four-year period. We have been there since early 2002 and we've built actually 700 -- rebuilt or built 700 clinics and schools.
What happens when these reports are done is people take the report and forget about the time period that the report was focused on. Was it accurate for that time period? Yes. Why were we focused on something other than health clinics and schools?
The president asked us to build a road from Kabul to Kandahar and reconstruct it. It's a road we built 45 years ago but hasn't maintained for 45 years. It's in the middle of a war zone. He gave us 13 months to do it. It was requested by President Karzai as a central part of his reconstruction program.
We took our resources; we put them in that road. We did it on time and below budget. And now we're extending that road out to Harat. We've done 743 kilometers of rural roads along in the same way.
We've done several loya jirgas, two national elections, a constitution-writing exercise. We've done huge agriculture programs where we've reclaimed half a million acres of land for irrigation and we reclaimed huge areas of the country that were arid that are now being irrigated successfully.
So all of these things are going on at the same time but we're actually back on track in the schools and clinics because we put new focus on that earlier this year.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about Iraq. There's another report -- they're so fond of reports -- said that there's a reconstruction gap that's been happening in Iraq. Things have not been getting done at the cost they were supposed to be got done at. I'm not speaking in English but you know what I mean.
ANDREW NATSIOS: I know what you mean.
GWEN IFILL: Things aren't getting done the way they're supposed to. What is your response to that?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, the first thing is of the $20 billion that has been appropriated, $5 billion was given to AID, the rest to Defense Department spending for the most part. And I'm not an expert. I'm not critical. I just don't know what defense has done. You have to ask someone else.
But of the $5 billion we've spent, $4 billion has been spent and dispersed already. There's about $5 billion in contracts and grants to NGO's, UN agencies that we're working with.
GWEN IFILL: Has it been spent well?
ANDREW NATSIOS: It has been spent well. The only problem we've had in Iraq -- not the only problem -- but the most important problem is the security costs have gone up.
No one can seriously say that we're expecting NGO's or UN agencies or contractors to go out and do work in Iraq and not protect the people that work for them.
GWEN IFILL: How much of the effort do they suck up?
ANDREW NATSIOS: When we started there was no security cost. In fact in most areas of the world we have no security arrangements in any of our contracts and grants.
We've had to add them in as the insurgency has targeted our facilities. We've invested over $2 billion in electricity and water and sewage. Those facilities, they haven't blown up the facilities themselves. They've blown up the power --
GWEN IFILL: Power grid?
ANDREW NATSIOS: -- the fuel to go to the electricity or the power grid getting to it or taking away the electricity once it's produced.
|Genocide in Darfur|
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned Sudan and Darfur. Two U.S. Senators wrote a letter -- an op-ed in the Washington Post, Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. Brownback, Republican and Democrat. And they both said that they fear that now violence which is settling in in Darfur are blocking any efforts towards humanitarian aid. Do you share their concern?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, I'm certainly concerned about it but that's been going on for three years now. Certainly there's been a little bit of up-tick of that this past fall but we're still able to deliver our assistance. We are not facing a crisis in the camps. And the death rates in the camps are well below the emergency level that would cause us all to be alarmed.
The problem in Darfur is we need a political settlement. And AID doesn't do political settlements. That's a State Department function, is a UN function. We certainly support them on it.
And I have to tell you I deal with Bob Zellick all the time, the deputy secretary of state. This is something he's focusing on attention along with Dr. Rice. And I think they're doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances.
|Natural disaster relief efforts|
GWEN IFILL: We had two experts here yesterday talking about the anniversary of the tsunami, and they said that this was a very good, well executed effort of relief and reconstruction, the best they'd seen. Are there lessons to be learned from what happened and how things were executed in Indonesia and Sri Lanka that could be applied to other disaster areas around the world?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, this may sound a little self-serving but the president put one agency in charge basically of the strategy for that, us. We're experts at this. We've done this for years, decades, very successfully around the world. And he gave us a lot of money. He gave us -- AID got $650 million to do this.
And we had a very useful alliance or coordination effort with the military. We don't have -- AID has 2,200 direct-hire career employees with a $14 billion budget. The Defense Department has a million or so soldiers and airmen and sailors. They have a lot more logistical capacity than we have.
We do well. We hire private contractors to do most of our logistics but to have them on the scene of the tsunami combined with our technical expertise has been very successful not just in the tsunami but also in the Pakistan earthquake.
GWEN IFILL: And finally you have been quoted in the Financial Times, I believe, saying that you believe that the system for financing aid in the United States is dysfunctional. You can tell me whether you said that, but I'm curious more for your larger view now that you're leaving this office on what the U.S. is doing right, what it should not be doing right, whether it should be overhauling the entire system.
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, from the 1960s until the early 1990s, mid 1990s, there was rule at OMB in the White House, which was we only had one foreign aid agency, that's AID; all money goes through them. So we don't have a referral department doing it.
For reasons that are understandable historically in the mid 1990s, Al Gore gave an instruction to all federal departments to sort of get involved in foreign aid. And he did that because there was a fear that because of lagging interest in Congress and among the American people for aid, the program would go away.
I know why he did it. It was very legitimate. But it now has almost every federal department doing it. Many of them don't have particular expertise in working in developing countries in very remote areas of the world where there's very fragile and weak institutions, there's a high risk of corruption. There's conflict going on. Two thirds of the countries AID work in have had conflicts in the last five years.
And most domestic agencies have no experience in how you do that kind of work.
GWEN IFILL: And so you think what should happen?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, personally, this is my opinion. I think we should go back to the system that predated the 1990s, where we had one foreign aid agency and all money went through that.
That's going to be very difficult to do now because there are a lot of interests in the city in having everybody do foreign aid.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, good luck at Georgetown.
ANDREW NATSIOS: Thank you very much.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.