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Defense Accountability
11.14.03
Politics and Economy:
Defense Accountability
More on This Story:
Accounting for U.S. Defense Spending

Some members of Congress have been calling for more oversight over U.S. defense spending. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) made a speech in May 2003 in which he announced that:

"The answer to problems like the Pentagon's accounting system clearly is not more flexibility — what is needed is more accountability. Accountability within the Department, accountability to Congress, which means accountability to the Constitution and accountability to the American people."

But Senator Byrd and others who feel strongly that actions of the Defense Department should be more transparent have been unable to get Congress as a whole to take action. And because accountability measures have not been passed, those members of Congress that have pressed for public explanations of Iraq reconstruction contracts have had little success.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has complained that "USAID is refusing to provide basic information to members of Congress" while "the agency is portraying itself in public as fully cooperating with any and all requests for information."

On November 6, 2003, President Bush signed the $87-billion emergency spending bill, but several provisions demanding increased transparency and accountability that were added as amendments (proposed by members of both parties) along the journey of the bill were dropped by House and Senate negotiators before it was finally passed into law. As explained by the nonpartisan citizens' lobbying group Common Cause:

  • "The Senate originally voted 97 to 0 to have the General Accounting Office conduct audits of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. That provision was stripped in the conference committee on a party line vote."
  • "Responding to the uproar about non-competitive bidding in Iraq, the House passed an amendment requiring competitive bidding on oil contracts. But that was also removed during a conference committee vote."
  • "Congress in its final Iraq spending bill did not even include language offered by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to penalize war profiteers for defrauding American taxpayers. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a provision to ensure that contractors who cheated the American taxpayer would face fines of up to $1 million and jail time of up to 20 years. Senators of both parties supported the provision, but Republican House negotiators refused to include the language in the final bill."

The battle is not over for those like Rep. Waxman, who has written to USAID administrators on behalf of the Committee on Government Reform asking for information on contracts to be provided by November 14, 2003.

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