Incoming Congress Should Audit the OAS

American taxpayers should know exactly what their money is being spent on. One area that rarely receives any attention is international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS). The oldest regional organization in the world, the OAS has been in existence longer than the United Nations and was created to deal with regional challenges on several fronts.

Tucked away a few blocks from the White House on one of Washington, D.C. most prized power addresses is the marble palace of democracy housing the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS). The impressive marble structure was constructed with private funds provided by Andrew Carnegie. It cost $5 million back then in 1910; factoring for inflation that’s about $135 billion today.

According to Article I of the OAS Charter Article, the goal of the group was “to achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.” It has had a spotty success record on all fronts since its creation.

As you can expect, the U.S. taxpayer is the most significant contributor to the OAS. On average, you and I contribute approximately $50-$60 million a year. It may be budget dust to some. However, a little dust here, some more dust there, and it starts to add up to a whole lot of money.

In addition to U.S. monies, the OAS also accepts troubling “grants” from foreign governments, including the Chinese, Spanish, and other governments totaling around $20 million this year alone. It also raises money from many other sources, including fundraisers for which we have no idea who is contributing or for what purpose. Once appropriated or donated, fulsome information on OAS programs, vendors, and contractors are complicated to come by and control.

What are U.S. taxpayer monies being spent on? Who is spending it? What is our political return on investment? Should U.S. taxpayers continue to spend, I would say waste at this point, precious tax dollars on entities such as the OAS? What political favors are granted foreign governments in exchange for these substantial contributions? Do these favors hurt U.S. economic, political, or security interests in the region? Do they work against the OAS mission?

To get answers to these and other questions, we need a baseline study done of what is being done with that money today. A forensic audit of the OAS is long overdue. A forensic audit will uncover misuse of public funds – an almost certain outcome. In the meantime, all spending should be frozen at 2008 levels, or even lower.

The OAS has been a mediocre player in regional affairs for decades. The handling of the 2009 Honduras matter is case in point, as is the ongoing Costa Rica-Nicaragua border conflict. While some may view it as a harmless debate society, words have meaning. Anti-U.S. sentiment runs high at the OAS. The United States should lean in a whole lot more to ensure U.S. national and security interests are advanced by U.S. participation in the OAS and not, as has been the case for decades, undermined by state parties.

While OAS diplomats may say one thing in Washington, DC, action in the region reflects a duality that hurts, and at times undermines, U.S. foreign policy and security interests throughout the Western Hemisphere. This is an untenable situation in a post 09.11.01 world.

Many of the same arguments for reforming the UN hold for the OAS, as well as many other international organizations. Rather than tackling the entire UN system at once, it may make more sense to put under a microscope, the smaller regional entities such as the OAS. It is in our backyard, and, right now, it is doing more harm than good.