50 Metric Tons of Learning
The main Iraq Educational Repair contract was awarded on April 17, 2003 to the tune of $62.7M -- with options for two one-year extensions which could raise the value to as much as $157M. It is formally referred to as the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education (RISE) program, and the recipient was a for-profit, woman-owned business named Creative Associates International, Inc. CAII has to make an national assessment and act on it in time to have schools up and running by September, that's all. This, apparently, is the sort of thing they do. Steve Horblitt, a Creative Associates spokesman, described the initial focus: "We're looking at backpacks, pencils, paper, blackboards, furniture, real basic stuff."
For some reason, this project didn't catch my attention at the time. Maybe the blatantly opportunistic deals for Bechtel and the Haliburton subsidiary obscured everything else. It wasn't until last week, June 9th, when Senator Joseph Lieberman used a June 6 memo from the USAID Inspector General to criticize the CAII contract: "The inescapable conclusion is that there was essentially no competitive bidding at all," said Lieberman. It is not a very difficult conclusion to draw. There was literally only one bid, which included three of the previously invited bidders as sub-contractors to CAII. Technically, however, that was not the problem which the Inspector General's Office (OIG) reviewed. OIG's findings involved two areas of pre-bid activity:
1) "USAID Did Not Comply with Federal Regulations for Conducting Market Research to Identify Prospective Contractors"
2) "Insufficient Documentation to Determine Compliance on Exchanges of Information with Prospective Contractors"
Translated, I believe these findings mean that the agency didn't work very hard to get anyone else to bid, and CAII "may have helped shape the proposal it was then asked to bid on," as the Washington Post explained it.
I finally started a modest, Google-based effort to learn more about Creative Associates International, Inc. and the juicy transnational ed project that had dropped in its lap.
I learned from the CAII homepage that the company had already received a similar contract to rebuild primary education in Afghanistan, (the Iraq contract includes secondary education as well). There's nothing wrong with that, of course -- but it sure demonstrates the strength of CAII's connections. They are clearly the Bush Administration's designated post-war educational SWOT team.
According to CAII's description, the Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP) has three basic goals:
- Providing learning materials to classrooms,
- Preparing teachers to better serve the learning needs of their students, and
- Accelerating the educational process of hundreds of thousands of overage learners to age-appropriate grades.
Again with the learning materials. The ten million new textbooks rush ordered and distributed was described on one webpage as: "50 metric tons of new, revised primary textbooks ." That must have been a nice order for the lucky publishing company's regional sales rep. I wonder who it was? I haven't figured it out yet.
And what about the Accelerated Learning? CAII says that: "APEP partners will work with the MOE to design and implement an accelerated learning program to quickly and effectively bring overage students to the appropriate grade level, before they are forced to drop out for economic or early marriage reasons."
Wow. All this in Afghanistan. I'm not sure I'd be so confident.
[to be continued]