Thursday, April 22, 2004

Update on the Alleged Misappropriation of $700M

The Center for American Progress has done some searching and its preliminary findings only raise more questions--but they are certainly questions for which the public (and Congress) should demand an explanation.

Apparently the money must have come either from the immediate post-9/11 funds (made available by HR 2888, passed 18 September 2001 and archived here) or from the emergency funds that Congress passed on 2 August 2002 (H.R. 4775, passed 2 August 2002). I have excerpted the relevant portion (the part dicussing military funding) from HR 4775 because the whole Act is quite long.

Scenario 1:
If Bush got the $700M from the emergency funds that Congress made immediately available after 9/11 (HR 2888), (1) the President was required to "consult with the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Committees on Appropriations prior to the transfer of these funds," and (2) the Office of Management and Budget was required to submit quarterly reports on the use of those funds.

As for the first requirement, Senator Robert Byrd--the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee at the time--recently stated:
To the best of my knowledge, and I was Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee at that time, the Bush White House provided no consultations as required by law about its use of funds for preparation for a war in Iraq in advance of those funds being spent. There is nothing contained in the Administration's quarterly reports indicating that projects were being funded to prepare for war with Iraq.

As far as those quarterly reports to Congress (requirement #2), the full reports covering the relevant timeframe can be found here (9 August 2002) and here (17 October 2002) [Whitehouse]. But rather than making you go through the whole document I have excerpted the pertinent page from each document (the one discussing military spending), which you can view here and here.

As the reports demonstrate, Bush didn't offer any specifics whatsoever. Instead, he grouped the military spending into broad categories like "Increased Situational Awareness" and "Improved Command and Control." Nowhere do the reports mention Iraq. Remember what the Constitution (Article I, Sec. 9, cl.7) requires: that "a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." I don't know what these reports typically look like, but it hardly seems that the reports the OMB provided pass constitutional muster.

Scenario 2:
If Bush spent the money from the second appropriation of funds, well, an immediate problem presents itself--Woodward claims that the $700M was authorized to be spent in preparing for the Iraq invasion in July 2002, but that money was not even available until August of that year.

But even more problematic, the Act specifically provides:
That during the current fiscal year, upon a determination by the Secretary of Defense that funds previously made available to the ??Defense Emergency Response Fund?? are required to meet other essential operational or readiness requirements of the military services, the Secretary may transfer up to $275,000,000 of funds so required to the appropriate funds or appropriations of the Department of Defense, 15 days after notification to the congressional defense committees.

In other words, the amount available to the Department of Defense was limited to $275M (not $700M) and that money could only be transfered 15 days after some members of Congress were notified. Senator Byrd serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and never heard a thing about military spending for Iraq at that time.

So far, the news coverage on this issue has been sparse. The LA Times quotes a few Congressional representatives in this article--and they are obviously not too happy about the development. Professor Cass Sunstein, who I respect a great deal, gave his two cents on the matter here []. He states:
With the words 'promoting national security,'[the language from HR 2888] Congress cannot plausibly have meant to give the president a blank check to prepare for hostilities wherever he chooses.

What does the Bush administration have to say about all this? According to this Fox News story, General Tommy Franks sent the Pentagon a $700M "request for improvements" (whatever that means), but the Pentagon reviewed the request and funded only $178M, which went to "fuel and rations, improvements to military communications networks and improvements to Franks' headquarters in Florida." The DOD's full statement to the press can be found here. I don't understand why General Franks would be submitting budget requests to the Pentagon instead of Congress, like it's supposed to work, and it certainly doesn't fit the Pentagon's M.O. to turn down an opportunity to spend more money.

The official response, from Scott McClellan on Tuesday:
I think the Department of Defense briefed on that yesterday, and pointed out that that simply was not the case. Congress was kept informed and the funding, the emergency funding from the -- the emergency funding gave the Pentagon broad discretion in how funds were used. And they also pointed out that the funding specifically for Iraq came after the resolution that Congress passed. And Congress was kept fully informed of the funding.

It is a possibility that Woodward simply got bad information. But even if that were so, we are certainly entitled to a better explanation than what has been provided so far.

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