Show Us the Pentagon’s Money

A government advisory board led by former Defense Secretary Bill Perry recently issued a report showing that the Pentagon provides nearly double the amount of assistance to foreign police and military forces than the Department of State does.

While the State Department, the agency that traditionally provided the bulk of foreign military and police assistance, is required by Congress to detail its spending plans each year, the Pentagon can dole out its money with little public accountability.

While this is a budgeting issue, it also underscores the need for more transparency in governing.

When the US government provides military aid, it effectively is choosing sides in a foreign country’s political process. Because the State Department manages US diplomacy, it normally parceled out most of our aid to foreign military and police forces. But starting with the “War on Drugs” in the 1990s and ballooning after September 11, Congress has authorized the Pentagon to provide more and more direct assistance to foreign forces.

For fiscal 2012, the State Department provided $8.7 billion in military aid. Before doing so, it is required by law to provide Congress and the public with the rationale behind the assistance proposed for the coming year. This annual report also estimates how much taxpayer money is being spent by every program in every country in the current year and details the actual amounts spent in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the $16.2 billion in equipment, weaponry and training that the Pentagon doled out to foreign forces through more than 100 military programs was not subject to the same standard of transparency. The Defense Department isn’t required to give Congress and the public a comprehensive picture of its planned spending or much by way of justification.

A leading index of government accountability, the 2012 Aid Transparency Index, ranked 72 global aid organizations, from the World Bank to specific bilateral donor programs. The Pentagon was the least transparent of the six major US agencies that provide the bulk of US foreign military assistance.

There is a simple fix.

If the Pentagon is going to become the lead player, in budget terms, for US foreign military aid, then it should provide the same kinds of information to Congress and the public that the State Department has long provided.

Every spring, the State Department must submit a forward looking plan to Congress explaining how it will spend U.S. foreign aid in the coming fiscal year. This document names every program that the State Department wants to use for military assistance and it provides some rationale as to why.

The Pentagon, by contrast, is only required to submit summary reports to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees for expenditures made from dozens of different programs often several years after the money has been spent.   Although the reports are unclassified, they are not easily accessible to the U.S. public.

By requiring the same level of transparency and accountability for the Defense and State Departments, Congress will have a better understanding of the scope and effectiveness of U.S. assistance to other countries and the American people will be better informed about U.S. foreign and defense policies.

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