Goal to close US offices as inquiry into agency ongoing

Contracts of 10 employees to be terminated

USAID has told Goal and other agencies to halt certain procurements using American funds pending the outcome of an inquiry. Photographs: The Irish Times/Getty Images/Goal

USAID has told Goal and other agencies to halt certain procurements using American funds pending the outcome of an inquiry. Photographs: The Irish Times/Getty Images/Goal

 

The aid agency Goal is to close its offices in the United States as it attempts to contain the fallout from a US investigation into its operation in Syria, The Irish Times has learned.

Goal informed staff this week that it was terminating the contracts of 10 employees at Goal USA, including the head of the US-registered entity Mark Bartolini, with effect from today. It is understood that two staff members will remain in New York to manage the wind-down of the office.

The closure was announced to staff days before chief executive Barry Andrews confirmed he was stepping down to give the organisation “a fresh start in terms of leadership”. His successor, who was headhunted by the board, is expected to be announced next week.

The US operation has been a key plank of a strategy that has seen Goal double its turnover in four years to become the biggest Irish aid agency in the field. Its closure is the latest aftershock from an investigation by the US government’s foreign aid arm, USAID, into alleged bribery and bid-rigging involving suppliers to humanitarian organisations working in Syria.

Procurements

USAID has told Goal and other agencies to halt certain procurements using American funds pending the outcome of the inquiry, although it has continued to fund Goal’s other programmes.

Separately, The Irish Times understands that the investigation, which is being carried out by the US Office of the Inspector General, is focusing on one individual with links to Goal and on a particular tender for items valued at $170,000 (€154,000).

In a message to staff, Mr Andrews said it was “with regret” that Goal had terminated the contracts of members of its US-based “resilience team”, which focuses on projects dealing with the effects of climate change and with building communities’ economic strength.

“The continuing funding difficulties have led to this decision and the unit were notified yesterday,” Mr Andrews wrote. “In addition, we have had to notify other staff members in Goal USA that their contracts have been terminated for the same reason. It is a great pity to be unwinding Goal’s investment; however, it is unavoidable at this time.”

Dramatic growth

Goal invested heavily in its US office two years ago as the charity grew dramatically in response to global crises and because of its close relationships to USAID – the charity’s biggest individual donor – and the aid divisions of the British government and the European Union. Mr Bartolini is a former director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, and his deputy at Goal USA, Laura Powers, was also a former USAID official.

It is understood that Goal had planned for the office to break even by December 2016, but the financial pressure caused by the fallout from the Syria investigation made that impossible.

Mr Andrews said Goal had thought “long and hard” about the US closure and had taken the decision “without compromising on our mandate to mitigate suffering and deliver sustainable aid wherever and whenever we can.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has withheld €10.1 million in aid for Goal since it learned of the USAID investigation in April. A source in the European Commission indicated there was no change to its funding of the Irish agency.