The ranking members on the House and Senate Budget committees, one of whom is Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE (I-Vt.), a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, are asking the Government Accountability Office to look into whether war funds are being spent on their intended purpose.
“The use of off-budget war fund to finance regular operations hides the true cost of government, and it inhibits the Congress’ ability to have an honest debate when setting funding levels for both defense and non-defense programs,” Sanders and Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Bottom line Spendthrift Democrats ignore looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare MORE (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.
“To better understand this issue, we request GAO to perform an analysis to determine how war funds have been spent and to identify the degree to which war fund have been used to fund regular activities,” they wrote.
The request comes as a fight over this year’s National Defense Authorization Act emerges between Congress and the Obama administration.
The defense policy bill would authorize $612 billion in funding for the Pentagon, the amount the administration is asking for. But $38 billion of that would be in the war fund instead of the base budget, as the administration wants.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it arrives on Obama’s desk.
Since Sept. 11 2001, the Defense Department has gotten $1.5 billion for various war funds, according to Sanders and Van Hollen’s letter. Billions of that, they said, were spent on activities not related to war operations.
Also, they said, the ratio of funding to deployed troops has increased as troops have been drawn down. For example, there was $1 million per troop in fiscal year 2013 and $4 million per troop in fiscal year 2015.
The lawmakers asked the GAO to specifically examine four issues: how the Defense Department used war funds; whether the Defense Department has established and implemented guidelines for the use of war funds; whether the Defense Department has used Office of Management and Budget criteria for identifying appropriate uses of war funds and to what extent Congress has authorized war funds for non-war purposes.
“Although GAO has made calls for more discipline in the use of (war) funds on the part of the Department of Defense, Congress has increased its use of the (war) designation to appropriate funds for regular, base budget activities to get around budget costs,” they wrote, “a practice that has further obfuscated the true cost of war operations.”