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GAO Report on State Department Actions to Address
Potentially Problematic UNRWA Textbooks

(June 2019)

This is a summary of the highlights of the General Accounting Office’s report: WEST BANK AND GAZA: State Has Taken Actions to Address Potentially Problematic Textbook Content but Should Improve Its Reporting to Congress.

The U.S. government funded an estimated $243 million for education assistance in the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) for fiscal years 2015 through 2017, including an estimated $193 million from the Department of State (State) and about $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Of State's contribution of approximately $193 million, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimated that about $187 million was provided for its education assistance. State provided the remaining approximately $6 million for non-UNRWA education projects. UNRWA purchased English language textbooks used in UNRWA schools with funds that consist of contributions from donor countries, including the United States. The U.S. government and UNRWA did not fund textbooks published by the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian Authority provided these textbooks free of charge, according to agency officials.

UNRWA and State have taken steps to identify and address potentially problematic content of textbooks used in UNRWA schools, such as maps that exclude Israel. UNRWA reviewed textbooks, including English language textbooks, and took actions to address content it deemed as not aligned with UN values. For example, UNRWA created complementary teaching materials, such as alternate photos, examples, and guidance for teachers to use with the textbooks in UNRWA schools. However, due to financial shortfalls and other constraints, UNRWA officials told GAO that UNRWA did not train teachers or distribute the complementary teaching materials to classrooms. As a result, these materials were not used in UNRWA classrooms. To address textbook content deemed problematic, State examined nongovernmental organizations' studies, encouraged Palestinian Authority officials to address the issue, and monitored UNRWA's efforts.

The annual appropriations acts for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 require State to report to Congress on several topics, including steps UNRWA has taken to ensure that the content of all educational materials taught in UNRWA schools is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and do not induce incitement. Although State submitted its required reports to Congress on time, State included inaccurate information in the 2017 report and omitted potentially useful information in all three reports. In its 2017 report, State noted incorrectly that UNRWA had completed training teachers and distributed complementary teaching materials to address textbook content that UNRWA deemed as not complying with UN values. In all three of the reports, State omitted information concerning whether UNRWA found that any educational materials used in its schools do not comply with two of four elements, dignity and not inducing incitement.Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that management should use quality information to achieve the entity's objectives and communicate it in a way that is useful to users. Without a fuller explanation, Congress may not have the information it needs to oversee efforts to identify and address potentially problematic textbook content.

Source: U.S. General Accounting Office.