Nonprofit Contractor Sent Government $1.1 Million Bill for Parties and Retreats

Friday, March 13, 2015

The largest nonprofit contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan billed the government $1.1 million for staff parties and pricey retreats — three of them held at one of the poshest destinations on the East Coast, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania.

International Relief and Development of Arlington, Va., collected hundreds of millions of dollars to work in the war zones and help impoverished nations around the world. At the same time — between 2007 and 2010 — its executives were using IRD’s government overhead account to fund the parties and retreats, according to financial records provided by IRD to The Washington Post.

The previously undisclosed retreats to Nemacolin were the fanciest by far. The five-star spa and resort, 180 miles northwest of Washington, is nestled in the Allegheny Mountains near Fallingwater, the famous home designed over a waterfall by Frank Lloyd Wright. IRD spent $484,338 on those retreats at the height of U.S. war spending, billing the expenses to the government as “training” and “staff morale” items, according to the records and current and former employees.

Attendance was compulsory, and more than 100 IRD employees went to two of the mountain retreats. Among the perks they received at Nemacolin: private rooms; open bars; gala dinner parties; free iPods at one retreat, Nikon Coolpix cameras at another; skeet-shooting outings at the resort’s Field Club; extreme-driving classes at its Jeep Off-Road Driving Academy; and complimentary $50 gift certificates to spend on clothing, jewelry, massages — whatever the employees wanted.

“It was scandalous,” said Andrea Clarke, IRD’s former media and communications officer, who attended the 2008 retreat. “I remember thinking, ‘We’re dealing with issues where people are actually dying overseas, and here we were at this five-star resort and we are living it up.’ There were alarm bells going off every day. It was no way to run a nonprofit.”

In January, USAID suspended IRD from receiving any more federal work, citing other spending that involved “serious misconduct.” The suspension came in the wake of allegations of misspending highlighted in a Post investigation in May 2014.

Source: The Washington Post (link opens in a new window)