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• Half of the $1.8 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding is still in the Treasury, its disbursement stymied by an understaffed U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the months after the quake and by a Haitian government that was barely functional for more than a year.

*Despite State Department promises to keep spending public, some members of Congress and watchdogs say they aren’t getting detailed information about how the millions are being spent, as dozens of contractors working for the U.S. government in Haiti leave a complex money trail.

“The challenges were absolutely huge, and although there was a huge amount of money pledged, the structures were not there for this to be done quickly,” said former U.S. Ambassador Brian Curran. “The concept of ‘build back better’ is a good one, but we were way overoptimistic about the pace we could do it.”

‘Sustainable improvement’

U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti Thomas C. Adams, who oversees spending of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds here, says the first priority in the critical days after the quake, which killed more than 300,000, was crisis management, and the U.S. government spent $1.3 billion on critical rescue operations, saving untold lives.

Three months later, the goals shifted from rescue to what would become a $1.8 billion reconstruction package aimed at building new foundations.

“U.S. taxpayers, in the past, have spent billions of dollars in Haiti that haven’t resulted in sustainable improvement in the lives of Haitians,” Mr. Adams said. “The emphasis was never on ‘spend the money quickly.’ The emphasis was on spending the money so that, in a year or two, we could look at these projects and see that we’ve helped create a real base to jump-start economic development and give Haitian families and businesses the kind of opportunities they deserve.”

Haitian government officials are appreciative and said the U.S. provides generous support for projects that affect long-term development.

As for going back into debt, “Haiti needs all the assistance it possibly can get at this point,” said Dimitri Nau, deputy chief of staff for Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

Unmet promises

Within months of the quake, Congress approved a 27-page plan detailing a partnership with the Haitian government to “lay the foundation for long-term stability and economic growth.”

USAID, an agency overseen by the State Department, was held responsible for getting the job done by choosing contractors, selecting projects and overseeing the work.

But just as there’s little to show for the $2 billion the U.S. spent in Haiti in the two decades before the earthquake, it hasn’t built much that is permanent with the new influx of cash.

The plan laid out broad categories: infrastructure, health care, education, economic development. It was followed by a strategy that included specific benchmarks.

This month, as about 40 of those come due, some are met, like a new police hot line to report abuse. But others are not.

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