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Successful use of FOIA in the International Program at the Government Accountability Project

Bea Edwards, July 01, 2016

“For every breaking story and revelation made possible by the FOIA, countless others are undoubtedly buried as the law’s effectiveness sags under the weight of processing backlogs resulting from, among other things, a lack of resources and reliance on outdated technology, as well as inconsistent application in terms of disclosure and overbroad use of exemptions. The law, which was signed on July 4, 1966, is drastically in need of meaningful reform to bring it into the 21st Century." On June 30th, 2016, President Obama signed much-needed reforms into law through the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. In honor of FOIA's 50th birthday,

In honor of FOIA's 50th birthday, GAP's International Program Director, Bea Edwards, describes how GAP successfully used FOIA requests to ensure the provider of defective HIV kits was debarred as a vendor for health care projects funded by the World Bank in India.

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Correspondence between the US Center for Disease Control and the World Bank (2009)

Over the course of the past two years, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has been helping Dr. Kunal Saha, an Ohio-based HIV researcher, in his dispute with the Indian National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and the World Bank. During this time, Dr. Saha has worked to oblige both institutions to acknowledge and effectively address serious allegations of fraud and corruption affecting the procurement and use of substandard HIV test kits. These kits may represent a serious danger of transmission of the AIDS virus to innocent, unsuspecting patients in India. We continue to work with Dr. Saha in this matter, which we believe has grave significance for public health in India. 

In December, 2007, a World Bank staff member sent to the US press a copy of the “Detailed Implementation Review” (DIR), the Bank’s own exhaustive investigation of its health care projects in India. The DIR reported clear evidence of “fraud and corruption” in the implementation of the second National AIDS Control Project (NACP-II). After the report surfaced in public, however, its findings have been questioned publicly by NACO and by the World Bank itself. Both institutions have sought to minimize the significance of the allegations concerning defective HIV test kits. 

GAP therefore filed a request for documents related to the issue using the “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) in the United States. We then obtained information from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicating that one or more CDC employees were pressured to exonerate NACO in the matter of the HIV test kits. 

Following extensive consultations with the World Bank about the matter, the provider of the faulty kits was debarred as a vendor for health care projects funded by the World Bank in India.