How is Ukraine using the military and financial assistance the American taxpayers have sent so far? The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a hearing on Wednesday, March 29, to inquire of witnesses whether anyone in the US government actually knows. There is a growing bipartisan endorsement of more accountability and oversight to ensure wise spending of taxpayer dollars to assist Ukraine. Furthermore, legislators are wondering how long the US cash register will be open. Does the Biden administration have a plan for winding down the hostilities? With the amount spent already over $113 billion, the potential for fraud, waste, and abuse is high. HFAC Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) wants assurances taxpayer assistance to Ukraine is spent prudently.
Testifying before the committee hearing were the Honorable Robert P. Storch, Inspector General for the US Department of Defense (DOD), and two executives performing the duties of inspector general, Ms. Diana R. Shaw and Ms. Nicole L. Angarella representing the State Department (DOS) and US Agency for International Development (USAID), respectively. Agency inspector generals (IG) have a unique position within their organizations. The IGs establish and maintain independence and objectivity for providing oversight of their agencies to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse, particularly such activities that have criminal dimensions. This marks the first time that all three of these officials have appeared together to provide insights into how the Biden administration is ensuring the money being spent in Ukraine is being spent for the purpose for which it was intended.
Witnesses Explained Oversight of Ukraine Funding Adequate
All the witnesses set about to persuade the Committee that a significant amount of oversight focuses on the right things in Ukraine. Each of those testifying confirmed that no diversion of resources or military equipment could be substantiated. These statements followed closely the latest Joint Oversight of the Ukraine Response report released on March 27, 2023. However, some areas of inquiry could have received more attention from the committee.
To achieve focused Ukraine-specific accountability and oversight, Congress is considering a bill to establish a special inspector general to assess spending for arms and financial aid to the Kyiv government. When Ms. Shaw was asked if having a separate, dedicated special inspector general for Ukraine as Congress authorized for Afghanistan was a good idea, Shaw opined the current Ukraine Oversight Interagency Working Group established in June 2022 is doing a good job. “To add another layer into that would potentially result in a redundant mandate, duplicative costs, duplication of effort, is an IG concerned with efficiency,” Shaw explained. The answer sounded like turf protection.
Additionally, Shaw’s answer called to mind criticism by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko. There wasn’t a question to Shaw or Angarella about the criticism from the SIGAR regarding the failure to provide requested information. In the SIGAR October 2022 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Sopko laments: “[F]or the first time in its history, [SIGAR] is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this US government spending due to the non-cooperation of several US government agencies.” The Afghanistan IG named the State Department and USAID as the culprits. A good question would have been, if you were reluctant to provide necessary information to SIGAR in its oversight role, what assurances do we have that you are providing all essential data to Congress now?
How About Direct Cash Aid to Ukraine
Another area needing more vigorous inquiry was the oversight of direct cash aid to Ukraine. “You also noted, cash assistance comes with inherent risk. Pretty obvious statement. Particularly in a country that is 120th in the world on the transparency scale. Because it is highly fungible and difficult to track…How do you oversee the disbursement of cash in a warzone?” Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL) asked Ms. Angarella. She explained, concerning the $1.4 billion in humanitarian assistance, USAID partners with US contractors and non-government organizations (NGOs) to distribute funds. USAID has provided these entities with fraud awareness briefings. But there are no USAID IG personnel on the ground in Ukraine with eyes on the transactions. Depending on the good offices of NGOs based on having provided them PowerPoint briefings seems a flawed oversight process.
The question underpinning the Ukraine assistance efforts is when will it end? President Biden’s persistent refrain is “as long as it takes.” So, conceivably hostilities between Ukraine and Russia could go on for years. Americans have had their fill of never-ending and expensive wars. Only half of Americans polled recently by Fox News go along with the “as long as it takes to win.” The US provides boatloads of cash and weapons to Ukraine, and most Americans support the effort. There is a reasonable level of oversight on how the money is being spent. But estimating how long the money spigot will flow is a problem.
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