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Rep. Massie Promises Vote to Establish Audit Overseeing Ukraine War Money
The SIGUA office is opposed by President Biden but may be forced by a congressional vote.
The United States has allocated around $113 billion to Ukraine over the last seventeen months, soon to surpass the money spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II and quickly approaching the cost of twenty years of war and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Despite this unprecedented spending, there is no overarching Special Inspector General to oversee the Ukraine funds to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.
Change may be on the horizon. “There will also be a vote this week,” Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., tweeted this morning, on establishing the IG for Ukraine.
The push for a Special Inspector General for Ukraine Assistance (SIGUA) has unfortunately become a partisan issue, another casualty of the negative polarization cycle in Washington, D.C. Last March, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attempted to establish the audit office as an amendment. The bill splintered the Republican caucus in half, while every Democratic Senator, except Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, voted against it.
Surprisingly, notable opposition to establishing the office came from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Warren, before her rise to the Senate, became a national figure as an oversight official working alongside the SIGTARP, the auditor that oversaw the 2008 bank bailout funds. As Warren has touted in the past, SIGTARP, with relatively limited investigative resources, brought criminal charges against 144 individuals, obtained criminal convictions of 107 defendants, and obtained civil judgments and restitution totaling $4.3 billion.
The Afghanistan auditor, known as SIGAR, discovered even more breathtaking fraud and contractor abuse. The auditor found that U.S. Agency for International Development wasted $335 million on a diesel power plant in the country that was over-budget and barely used, over $90 million on a program to place only 55 Afghan women in government jobs, and over $1 billion on "ghost schools" to build classrooms that were never utilized and left empty and dilapidated. The Pentagon reportedly "spent $6 million on a project that imported nine Italian goats to boost Afghanistan’s cashmere market” and $43 million on a single gas station.
The Afghanistan audit office was established by congressional Democrats after the 2006 midterm elections, during which the party gained power. Press releases from that era showcased the Democratic Party's celebration of its efforts to create SIGAR. Progressive lawmakers like Sanders once championed SIGAR as a model for better oversight of the Defense Department.
Now, as President Joe Biden leads U.S. efforts to support Ukraine in its war and recovery against Russia, the tables have turned. Democrats have so far refused to cosponsor or propose a single bill in Congress to establish a similar SIGUA office to oversee Ukraine war money. The bills now before lawmakers include proposals from Rep. Wittman, R-Va.; Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex.; Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.; and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
On Monday, the Biden administration directed lawmakers to vote against the creation of a SIGUA to oversee Ukraine money. The administration claims that new audit efforts are unnecessary, given that the government already has internal offices devoted to finding waste.
John Sopko, appointed by President Obama to head the SIGAR office for Afghanistan, has criticized the current administration’s position, noting that with such high levels of spending in Ukraine, a “whole of government” special audit office is vital. He also lashed out at officials who argue that new oversight might impede the flow of needed military or recovery assistance.
“Those are statements made by corrupt contractors, corrupt politicians, or politicians and contractors who don’t know anything about effective oversight,” said Sopko, speaking recently to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
The new effort to establish a SIGUA will likely be a recorded vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the military funding package now before Congress. Lawmakers are using the legislative proposal to tweak a number of Ukraine war issues, including an expected vote to block the Biden administration from supplying illegal cluster munitions to the Ukrainian military, as well as a push to force the Pentagon to disclose casualty figures for "both sides of the conflict" in Ukraine.
An updated list of amendments, released this morning from the House Armed Services Committee, suggests that the SIGUA amendment by Roy may be folded into a bloc vote.
I asked the offices of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for comment, over whether they have reconsidered their position on the Ukraine war money audit, but did not get a response.
Photo by Anton Petrus, via Getty Images.