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Abt Associates is a private, for-profit company that is one of the world’s largest employee-owned research and consulting firms.The company was founded in 1965 by German native Clark Abt, engineer and political scientist who sought to transfer defense industry technology and systems to civilian use. It has since expanded its mission to address economic and social issues at home and abroad. The company reported revenues totaling $193 million for the fiscal year ending in March 2006.

Abt Associates works through businesses, nonprofits, international organizations, and through federal and local governments in the United States. The company has a presence in 35 countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia, where the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)— a five year, $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS in 15 focus countries (Vietnam, as well as 14 in Africa and the Caribbean) and more than 100 other nations — awarded it more than $6 million in 2005 for consulting and management projects.

Of Abt’s 1,010 employees, 500 are based in the Cambridge, Mass. corporate office. The areas of its professional staffers’ expertise are wide-ranging — including medicine, economics, statistics, international development, epidemiology and engineering. The company does not publish information on its employees abroad.

Government contracting and global work

Abt Associates has a long and lucrative history as a contractor for the U.S. government, having worked for more than 30 federal departments, agencies, offices and other related organizations. In the span from 1990 through 2002, it received nearly 420 government contracts worth more than $900 million.

The company also has personal inroads in Washington, D.C. George Laudato, Abt’s senior vice president for international health, previously worked for more than 35 years for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he reached the position of deputy assistant administrator.

Abt President and CEO Wendell Knox has said that his company considers HIV/AIDS “the greatest threat to public health in the world today.”

For more than 20 years, Abt has been creating and analyzing HIV prevention, care and treatment solutions for federal clients such as USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services. The company’s stated priorities with regard to the epidemic are: developing health systems; providing information; bolstering private sector involvement; assessing and monitoring risks, impacts and innovations; and addressing needs specific to communities.

Abt is continuing more than two decades of consulting work in Africa under PEPFAR. Its past international development work on the continent has included providing support and assistance for agricultural improvement projects in Kenya, improved agricultural products for businesses in Madagascar and health sector reforms in Niger.

PEPFAR programs

One of Abt’s largest endeavors has been the Partnerships for Health Reform, a project that is now funded under PEPFAR in modified form. PHRplus, as the expanded project is now called, is USAID’s chief project to improve health care systems and policies, with particular emphasis on health information and disease surveillance. PHRplus‘ Web site states that the project’s goal is to “provide technical assistance in, and to help maintain, USAID’s worldwide leadership role in health care reform, health policy, management, health financing, and systems strengthening.”

PHRplus is led by Abt Associates in more than 20 countries. Though PEPFAR’s stated aim is to increase local management and sustainability in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Abt does not offer information about whether its employees abroad are native to the countries or regions in which they work.

According to government documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through a Freedom of Information Act request, Abt aimed to develop a Nigerian national reporting and management system on antiretroviral drugs distributed in 61 private and public health care facilities through PHRplus in 2005. In Mozambique, the company was contracted to create a cost-effective “stop-loss” private health insurance model to encourage employers to cover HIV/AIDS treatment.

Abt Associates is also a major player in PEPFAR’s Private Sector Program in Ethiopia. It was awarded more than $581,000 in funding in fiscal 2005 for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs there, including efforts to disseminate prevention and care information in workplaces having 500 or more employees.

Partnering with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, Abt evaluates and works on ensuring the presence of messages promoting each component of PEPFAR’s “ABC” approach to HIV/AIDS prevention, which focuses on “Abstinence,” “Being faithful” to one partner and the correct and consistent use of “Condoms.” Aspects of the program include peer education and “family fun days” centered on the themes of fidelity and respect for the family unit.

Through its care and treatment programs, Abt aims to improve employee and dependent access to “care seeking messages, care options and referral linkages to external care and treatment options,” PEPFAR documents on the program state.

The Center’s efforts to obtain an exact breakdown of PEPFAR funding for Abt’s private sector partnership has been blocked by the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

Abt Associates declined to be interviewed for this article and referred Center researchers to USAID, saying that only its clients can speak on behalf of Abt’s contracts and their execution.

Representatives of USAID did not return requests for comment.

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