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There’s no oversight of billions in Ukraine aid — we need fiscal watchdogs

Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition
U.S. Air Force via AP
Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Jan. 21, 2022.

As the Senate works to pass the almost $40 billion in emergency supplemental funds for Ukraine just passed by the House, leaders in Washington must also ensure proper oversight of this spending. They can and must do both quickly. 

The latest funds will bring Ukraine security assistance and aid to over $50 billion since the Russian invasion when it passes. And spoiler, there is a galling lack of adequate oversight over this spending and the aid being provided, as a handful of senators have now raised.   

To be clear, the administration and Congress are doing the right thing by supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion. But we should also be able to provide aid to the Ukrainians while ensuring it’s going into the right hands and that war profiteers aren’t taking advantage of the crisis for their own gain.  

The Biden administration and Senate must also prioritize installing permanent inspectors general to government agencies so they can monitor aid to Ukraine. These independent watchdogs can ensure that taxpayer money is not siphoned off by fraudsters or war profiteers and that weapons remain in the hands of the Ukrainian military.  

Congress should do everything it can to ensure robust independent oversight when obligating funding, even in emergency situations like this — these efforts need not hold up funding and will ultimately make the aid more effective.  

The simplest route would be to install permanent inspectors general at existing offices tasked with doling out the aid and ensure those offices have the resources they need to oversee surge funding like this. The Pentagon and State Department, the two agencies overseeing the bulk of spending for Ukraine assistance, are both missing permanent internal watchdogs — and the Pentagon has been missing one for over six years.    

The nominee to be the top watchdog at the Pentagon, National Security Agency Inspector General Rob Storch, was voted out of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 8 and has been waiting for a floor vote ever since. The individual currently acting as the Pentagon’s watchdog is wearing two hats by also serving as the Environmental Protection Agency’s top watchdog — likely limiting his effectiveness in both positions

We strongly urge the Senate to finish what the president started and confirm Storch.  

And while the president was quick to nominate someone to be the watchdog of the Pentagon, he hasn’t yet nominated an inspector general for the State Department, despite the vacancy also predating his presidency. Now is the time for such action to take place. 

On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delayed a vote on the assistance bill, citing the need for an inspector general. He has offered an amendment that would add oversight of the Ukraine assistance to the Special Inspector of Afghanistan Reconstruction. Other senators have pushed for the creation of a new special inspector general dedicated to these assistance programs.  

While we welcome their focus on independent oversight, there is no reason to hold the aid hostage over this.

Some of the proposals under discussion also do not reflect the lessons Congress should have learned from the creation of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. There, Congress had to pass subsequent legislation, championed by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), to grant the inspector general the proper hiring authorities, months after the office was created. Those proposals don’t address the challenges a newly created office will run into as it establishes itself as the programs it will oversee are underway.  

The need for effective inspectors general is already apparent given the level and nature of U.S. assistance committed to Ukraine. The speed at which the U.S. has transferred this defense material to the country presents real oversight challenges in terms of both spending and monitoring its use. Oversight and monitoring of arms transfers are generally difficult in the first place, but without U.S. personnel on the ground in Ukraine, something we do not advocate for, it’s even more challenging to monitor whether U.S. arms are staying in the hands of the Ukrainian military. The State and Defense Departments desperately need internal watchdogs to prevent, detect and investigate abuse of funds as well as ineffective or insufficient tracking of weapons by the agencies’ respective monitoring programs. 

The best way to support the Ukrainians is to install independent watchdogs who can ensure the billions we are sending overseas goes to the people who need it. Leaders in Washington must act now to make that happen.  

Danielle Brian is the executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption and abuse of power. 

Tags Inspector General Politics of the United States Rand Paul Reactions to the 2021–2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis Ukraine aid

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