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WTH! What’s the Hold-up?

Happy belated anniversary. It has been 380 days since the Department of State publicly released its first review of the implementation of the Global Gag Rule, and no action has been taken to implement the important and needed technical fixes called for in the review.

The six-month review contained few details about the actual impact of the policy, officially titled “Protecting Life in U.S. Global Health Assistance” (PLGHA). However, it did address key aspects of the standard provisions that were causing confusion amongst the limited number of U.S. and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who, at that point in time, had to formally agree to comply with the policy to continue receiving U.S. global health assistance. The specific pain points include: (1) the meaning of “provide financial support to any other foreign organization that conducts such activities”; (2) the ‘one-strike and you’re out’ termination requirement; and (3) the application of the policy to in-kind assistance, such as training and technical assistance.

Helpfully—and presumably to ease the translation of the fixes into legalese for an update and inclusion in the standard provisions—the Findings and Actions section of the review provided further clarification and details of how the standard provisions should be interpreted to clear up confusion and prevent over-implementation of the policy. Technically, the clarifications to the standard provisions do not go into effect until they are formally updated, included and adopted by partners in their grants, subgrants and cooperative agreements. The fixes are further detailed in PAI’s Washington Memo from February 8, 2018, Non Reductio Ad Absurdum—Six-month Review of Trump’s Global Gag Rule Policy.

The failure on the part of the Trump administration to update the standard provisions in a fair and timely fashion is only adding to the confusion and chaos this policy creates.

Application of the policy has moved well beyond the limited number of impacted partners who raised these concerns at the time of the six-month review. At this point in time, it is fair to say that every U.S. global health assistance grant, subgrant or cooperative agreement contains the non-modified PLGHA language. This means that every U.S. global health assistance implementing partner, be they U.S. NGO or foreign NGO, has had to agree to comply to confusing and imperfect language in its agreements with the U.S. government. Language that the U.S. government in its own review of the policy acknowledges as being confusing.

Who in the Trump administration is holding up the process to update the standard provisions?

The need for further clarification was originally raised by U.S. and foreign NGO partners who participated in a State Department call for feedback on the implementation process to date. The problems and potential solutions were considered by an interagency working group comprising of key staff from the White House, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DoD). Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the review—which formally noted the lack of clarity and pain points—and provided an interpretation to be incorporated into the standard provisions moving forward.

It has been 380 days since the Trump administration formally went on the record saying that their plan to massively expand the Global Gag Rule was causing unnecessary confusion. For 380 days, this administration has refused to implement three solutions to limit the over-implementation—and thus, unintended and avoidable damage—of this policy. It is as if they don’t mind the unnecessary harm, disruption and chaos that this policy continues to wreak on NGOs and women and girls around the world.

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