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1200 Monkeys Was the Least of It: a Case of Kickbacks and Sexual Harassment at USAID

Ann Van Dusen’s long and successful career USAID brought many challenges, including the case of a contractor implicated in kickbacks, sexual harassment and and the irregular importation of 1200 monkeys to the United States.  Her conclusion from the sorry 1980s episode? “It is important to find ways to make it safe for whistleblowers to speak up.” Van Dusen’s moral compass was set early. She was deeply influenced by a grandmother who was a suffragette, anti-war and civil rights activist.   Van Dusen went on to serve in multiple senior positions at USAID, and helped design the agency’s child survival strategy. After retirement, she was a founding director of Georgetown’s Masters Program for Global Human Development and served on multiple boards. Van Dusen was interviewed by Alex Shakow in October 2017.

Read Ann Van Dusen’s full oral history HERE.

“It’s important to find ways to make it safe for whistleblowers to speak up.”

1200 monkeys, kickbacks and sexual harassment: “During the time I was Acting Director I was confronted with criminal fraud. The Office of Health had long supported a research program to develop a malaria vaccine, and the individual who headed this program was an entomologist who was . . . able to convince key people . . .  that USAID was on the verge of a major breakthrough in the malaria program and that either because of jealousy or ignorance, USAID managers did not appreciate his work… There were many absences, and sudden crises (e.g., 1200 monkeys arriving in the United States without proper documentation), and I had the sense that something wasn’t right. But I couldn’t figure it out and no one in his Division or outside wanted to tell me what was going on . . . or perhaps they didn’t know. Finally – ironically – a contractor with whom I had worked told me that the scientist was harassing a female employee on one of his contracts. . . As it turned out, sexual harassment was only one of the charges.  [The contractor] was eventually convicted of fraud and admitted to various kickback schemes.
What lessons did I draw from that sorry experience?. . . It is important to find ways to make it safe for whistleblowers to speak up.”

[On her grandmother]: “She had been a suffragette…and had correspondence with everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Coretta Scott King.”

Influential grandmother: “My grandmother, Eunice Armstrong, was an important force in my life. She had been a suffragette, was a college graduate (class of ’08), a lay psychoanalyst and playwright, and had correspondence with everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Coretta Scott King. She was deeply involved in anti-war and civil rights activity, and actually offered to cover my costs if I wanted to drop out of high school and go work on voter registration in the South in 1961. My parents were not amused, and I did not go! But I did think of myself as a rebel.  It was all pretty tame stuff – refusing to climb under the desk during nuclear air raid drills or, once or twice, refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag.”

Drafted by: Diana Castillo