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Group Awarded AIDS Grant Despite Negative Appraisal

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page A17

The Bush administration's global AIDS program last fall awarded a grant to promote abstinence in African youth to a politically connected Washington advocacy group, even though the expert committee reviewing requests for government money judged the request "not suitable for funding."

The decision by the committee was overruled by the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a key agency implementing the five-year, $15 billion Bush AIDS plan. On Nov. 1, the administration's global AIDS office approved a grant for an unspecified amount of money to the Children's AIDS Fund.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Evan Vucci -- AP)

_____Waxman Letter_____
Rep. Waxman's Letter to Amb. Tobias (house.gov, PDF)

The existence of the award was revealed yesterday in a letter by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) to Randall L. Tobias, head of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which is run out of the State Department.

Waxman is seeking details of the Children's AIDS Fund's grant application, why expert reviewers rejected it and why the decision was overruled by Andrew S. Natsios, USAID's head.

The Children's AIDS Fund, which has an office in Sterling and a post office box in Washington, is an 18-year-old AIDS service organization that has become a leading proponent of abstinence-based AIDS prevention.

The organization is headed by Anita M. Smith, a writer and researcher whose views on strategies for reducing risky behavior by teenagers were promoted by President Bush during his tenure as Texas governor. In 2002, she was named to the President's Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, and last December was appointed co-chairman.

Her husband, Shepherd Smith, is president of the Institute for Youth Development, a group seeking to reduce use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco in young people, and to promote abstinence and nonviolence.

His organization recently got a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct 20 workshops a year for three years to "assist faith- and community-based organizations in competing for federal grants," according to its Web site.

Anita Smith was traveling in Africa with her husband yesterday and could not be reached. A woman who answered the phone at the Children's AIDS Fund would not specify where the Smiths were or whether they were on business.

"No one else here is involved in these sorts of programs," said the assistant, Jeanne Wood, when asked whether another employee could talk about the organization's work.

On Oct. 5, the global AIDS program awarded grants totaling $100 million to 11 applications in the category titled "HIV/AIDS Prevention Through Abstinence and Healthy Choices for Youth." The Children's AIDS Fund was ranked No. 12 by the expert panel employed by USAID to review the merits of applications.

In a letter dated Oct. 21, Natsios recommended that Tobias approve the Children's AIDS Fund's application, even though the committee judged it "not suitable for funding" because of "technical issues." Documents describing the panel's thinking, if they exist, were not available yesterday.

Natsios recommended approving the grant anyway because it offered unique access to Janet Museveni, the wife of Uganda's president, Yoweri K. Museveni.

AIDS incidence in Uganda -- a nation devastated by AIDS early in the epidemic -- has fallen dramatically in the past decade. Research shows that an increase in the age of "sexual debut" in young men and women, as well as a reduction in the average number of sex partners, is the main driving force for the trend.

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