The Bush administration plans to screen thousands of people who work with charities and nonprofit organizations that receive U.S. Agency for International Development funds to ensure they are not connected with individuals or groups associated with terrorism, according to a recent Federal Register notice.
The plan would require the organizations to give the government detailed information about key personnel, including phone numbers, birth dates and e-mail addresses. But the government plans to shroud its use of that information in secrecy and does not intend to tell groups deemed unacceptable why they are rejected.
The plan has aroused concern and debate among some of the larger U.S. charitable organizations and recipients of AID funding. Officials of InterAction, representing 165 foreign aid groups, said last week that the plan would impose undue burdens and has no statutory basis. The organization requested that it be withdrawn.
"We don't know who will do the vetting, what the standards are and whether we could answer any allegation," said an executive for a major nongovernmental organization that would be subject to the new requirements and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to harm his organization's relations with the government.
The Global Health Council, an international membership alliance of public health professionals in more than 100 countries, yesterday described the plan as "a sweeping information-gathering and recordkeeping measure that would impose a high administrative burden."
The Federal Register notice said the program could involve 2,000 respondents and "will become effective on August 27," the last day that public comments about it are to be submitted. Harry Edwards, a spokesman for USAID, said yesterday that the agency may not stick to that starting date, but he said the agency would not discuss the origins or any details of the program until the comment period concludes.
The program is described in the notice as the Partner Vetting System. It demands for the first time that nongovernmental organizations file information with the government on each officer, board member and key employee and those associated with an application for AID funds or managing a project when funded.
The information is to include name, address, date and place of birth, citizenship, Social Security and passport numbers, sex, and profession or other employment data. The data collected "will be used to conduct national security screening" to ensure these persons have no connection to entities or individuals "associated with terrorism" or "deemed to be a risk to national security," according to the notice.
Such screening normally involves sending the data to the FBI and other police and intelligence agencies to see if negative information surfaces.
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