Sign Up for this Newsletter   Print This Page Archives Email Us

Pouch Listings

The Embassy of Belize and the wife of the Prime Minister of Belize is hosting this Gala on Saturday February 16th, 2013 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. please click here.


Come join the popular Embassy Golf Tournament hosted by the Washington Diplomat. On May 3rd, Ambassadors, Diplomats, U.S. Government officials and the business community will come out for this networking event. please click here.

Click here for a FREE SUBSCRIPTION to the Diplomatic Pouch and get every issue of the latest diplomatic news & events sent directly to your inbox.
Click Here For Details

Email Us
Follow Us on TwitterFriend Us on FacebookConnect with us on Linked In

The Washington Diplomat

P.O. Box 1345
Silver Spring, MD 20915


Constructive Feedback for Afghanistan?
Listen to the Little Guy

Op-ed by Jade Wu 

For more than 10 years, the United States and its allies have channeled billions of dollars into the war in Afghanistan. They have put countless hours into designing nation-building activities, and have deployed tens of thousands of their men and women to work in a host country that remains torn apart by insurgency.

Why, after more than a decade of effort, does it seem like the West has made little headway — that many programs, though functioning now, do not appear sustainable once we leave? Have we really been off-target or has political pressure and expediency caused the United States to design programs not suitable for Afghanistan? Or, have our leaders failed to listen to the Americans on the ground?

Often our top policymakers and heads of federal agencies do not seem interested in what our men and women in Afghanistan, the implementers or the “little guys,” have to say, especially when the message is not what they want to hear.

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
Members of the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) inspect a canal project site in Zabul province, Afghanistan, in 2011. PRTs were introduced by the U.S. government to Afghanistan in 2002 so that military officers, diplomats, development experts and civilians could work together to support rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I remember while on the ground on a U.S. government-funded rule of law program in Afghanistan, as merely the implementer I was discouraged from providing any feedback. When I returned to the United States last year, as a subcontractor, there was no path by which to pass lessons learned on to representatives of the funding agency. I was neither a regular employee of the federal government nor of the private company with which I contracted.

Having worked in several warzones and observed repeated mistakes in our programs overseas, I thought it only prudent to give constructive feedback to our decision makers. Yet unlike employees of the U.S. State Department who have a “dissent channel” in which they can voice professional concerns, there is no such communication route for subcontractors. Even the U.S. military have their respective inspector general departments to which they can turn should they not feel at ease going up their chain of command.

What U.S. policymakers and program designers for Afghanistan often fail to do is to make room and make use of the critical observations they can get from Americans on the ground: military and civilian, particularly subcontractors who have worked in the development field for years. These are the people who spend countless hours with the Afghans, have become familiar with local customs and culture, and have a good idea of what generally works and where.

When American VIPs, policymakers and heads of organizations visit Afghanistan, they usually do so for a short duration. They are generally met by a team on the ground that has prepared for the visit and is more than happy to show them a Potemkin village. No thinking embassy, agency or private company on the ground will want to highlight program defects. Moreover, the visitors do not usually stay at any one place for long. They cannot observe the long-term processes of projects and any latent problems, friction or pushback from the locals remain hidden.

Furthermore, a private company that is implementing a project in Afghanistan will normally discourage its subcontractors from meaningful conversations, let alone provide program assessments to the funding federal source. Concerned about keeping its contract with the federal agency, the company would rather have these comments stay internal. Thus, when there is a design or methodology defect, it remains unresolved as the company cannot make major programmatic changes without consulting its funding source.

This is why it is extremely important for federal agencies, specifically those that have subcontractors, to establish a communication route for feedback. This method can be done while the little guy is on the ground and remains unnamed either through a secure website or via the Army Post Office. Although Americans have whistleblower statutes to protect their jobs from reprisals, these laws are not enough for subcontractors who fear they will not have their contract renewed should they speak up without the protection of anonymity.

As the United States continues to slug through hard economic times with many Americans unemployed or under-employed, the failures of our programs in Afghanistan become more visible. Americans back home want to know how their money has been justifiably spent on obtaining stability in Afghanistan. In addition to all the meetings and debates our decision makers have with each other, they need to communicate actively with the little guys on the ground, the implementers who have crucial information to share. These communications are tantamount to saving time, billions of dollars, and lives.

About the Author

Jade Wu is a Washington, D.C., lawyer who has worked on development projects in Malawi, Kosovo, Germany, Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan.



The Diplomatic Pouch | An email newsletter produced by The Washington Diplomat

Subscriber Services

About the Pouch

The Diplomatic Pouch is an email newsletter distributed to opt-in subscribers and produced by The Washington Diplomat, an independent monthly newspaper. The Pouch covers the diplomatic community, international affairs, politics, arts and culture, and social life in Washington, D.C. Although a complement
to The Washington Diplomat newspaper, all content is original and exclusively written
for the Pouch.

You are receiving this message because you provided your email address to us for The Diplomatic Pouch.
If you do not want to receive future emails from us, please click Unsubscribe to be removed from the list.
© 2013 The Washington Diplomat. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication is prohibited.