In hearings in recent days, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have inquired why the operations in the communist nation were concealed and not carried out by an intelligence agency instead.
“Why would we put that mission in USAID?” Republican Senator Mike Johanns has asked.
“Why wouldn’t you look at some other part of the federal government to place that mission? To me, it seems crazy.”
On Thursday, Democratic committee chairman Senator Robert Menendez defended the agency, saying he did not believe USAID’s efforts to promote “resilient, democratic societies that are able to realise their potential” were a “cockamamie idea”.
“Our work in Cuba is no different than our efforts to promote freedom of expression and uncensored access to information in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Iran, China or North Korea.”
The Obama administration has said the programme was not covert but instead operated “discreetly”.
Cuban-born Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen earlier defended such programmes, saying “they are so important to offer the other side of the story, the side that promotes American values: God-given values like freedom, justice or liberty”.