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American taxpayers are sending some $1.5 billion to Egypt annually, but the Obama administration is finding it difficult to fulfill its policy goal of awarding contracts to companies in the Middle East nation and in others that receive aid in an effort to improve their economies.

The problem is simply that there aren’t enough foreign organizations qualified to help in the U.S. effort, especially in Egypt.

So a “simple” solution has been implemented: spend even more taxpayer funds to teach other governments and NGOs – as well as the U.S. government itself – how to gauge the effectiveness of overseas initiatives.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has launched the Services to Improve Performance Management, Enhance Learning and Evaluation, or SIMPLE, project to fill the competency gap.

USAID is seeking outside help in monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of its Egyptian education, public health, economic growth, and democracy and governance programs, which comprise about one-sixth of the $1.5 billion in annual assistance authorized for Egypt.

Such reviews of foreign aid are being carried out with increasing frequency as a result of Obama’s USAID Forward policy, which seeks to ensure that aid programs – and the contractors hired to carry out the endeavors – follow the administration’s plans.

Indeed, WND recently uncovered the administration’s plan to spend $140 million to scrutinize and to possibly expand programs in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

A primary aim of USAID Forward is to strengthen aid-recipient national economies by hiring companies from those nations.

An example of that policy already in action is a $300 million Palestinian construction initiative, for which only West Bank and Gaza firms receive project awards.

But reaching that local-only goal has been a particularly difficult task in Egypt, according to the SIMPLE Statement of Work, or SOW, which WND located through routine database research.

“Many of these local organizations lack the skills necessary to effectively manage performance and conduct independent evaluations and verification activities,” the SOW says.

“As such, the Program Office plans to award a contract to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of performance management of USAID/Egypt’s portfolio.”

The portfolio comprises about $250 million of $1.5 billion in annual U.S. government aid to Egypt, which uses the remainder of that total for its military.

Military aid largely comes in the form of direct payments to defense contractors supplying weapons and other equipment to Egyptian armed forces. As WND reported nearly a year ago, neither the administration nor most members of Congress were willing to suspend military aid to Egypt, despite concerns about the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi.

Not only did the administration refuse to characterize the deposing of Morsi as a coup, soon after it made plans to transport heavily armed, missile-equipped naval patrol ships to the then-interim government.

After the 2014 presidential election of former Field Marshal and Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a subsequent Egyptian military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and other radicals has strained relations with the Obama administration.

The tensions have “renewed U.S. public debate over the costs and benefits of maintaining strong bilateral security ties with what some describe as an increasingly undemocratic Egyptian partner,” according to a recent Congressional Research Service report that the Federation of American Scientists obtained.

Overall, there continues to be “a marked lack of consensus over the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Egypt,” with policymakers divided over the future of relations with and assistance provide to the Sisi administration.

The U.S. military regards Egypt as an “anchor state” and still views Egyptian cooperation as vital to U.S. national security interests in the Middle East.

Other observers, such as U.S. democracy and human rights advocates, oppose U.S. military support for Egypt, which they claim contradicts U.S. security interests and democratic values.

“Some of these observers charge that the [Egyptian] military’s campaign against Islamists may ultimately further radicalize their opponents and lead to terrorist blowback against U.S.” the report says.

U.S. allies such as Israel and Gulf Arab monarchies, on the other hand, have advocated increased U.S. support for the Sisi administration.

“The Israelis have voiced appreciation for recent Egyptian military efforts to combat weapons smuggling into Gaza and terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula,” the report continues, “and the Gulf Arabs have backed Egypt’s crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The U.S. from 1948-2014 gave Egypt a total of $74.65 billion in bilateral foreign aid, including the consistent annual provision of $1.3 billion in military aid that began under the Ronald Reagan administration, the report points out.

According to the SIMPLE work document, USAID/Egypt is “currently in the process of designing new programs to meet Egypt’s transitional and development needs over the coming years.”

Among other tasks for the contractor selected for the SIMPLE program, the agency requires “short-term technical assistance on an as needed basis to assist in conducting assessments for new projects/programs.”

SIMPLE’s estimated cost is $24.5 million over five years. Contractor bids are due Aug. 4. USAID expects to award a contract by November.

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