By Philip Wegman for RealClearWire
As President Biden boarded a European train to Kiev, Washington, Rep. James Comer and his team crafted a long overdue speech.
Standing alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden vowed Monday that the lifeline of economic and military aid to that nation, and support already worth more than $100 billion, would not relent, and that the United States would stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
Kummer, the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, delivered a different message to the Biden administration Wednesday: Save the receipts. All of them.
The committee calls on the administration to turn over all documents and internal communications “in connection with any economic assistance programs of the Ukrainian government” and similar materials “in connection with any anti-corruption efforts” as they relate to financial and military assistance.
This notice comes on the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. The letter announces the beginning of what promises to be the most comprehensive review of the war effort to date. Obtained first and exclusively by RealClearPolitics.
Comer wrote, before insisting that the United States should develop “oversight mechanisms” to mitigate risks exacerbated by mandates to spend money “quickly.”
Related: Why This Teenage Ukrainian Refugee Prefers A War Zone For American Public Schools
House Republicans are casting a wide net. The committee wants a comprehensive account of “strategies for monitoring the end use of weapons and equipment, direct budgetary assistance, and any other form of economic or security assistance to the Ukrainian people.” They are also demanding all materials regarding how much federal money has been spent so far and “how much spending is left.”
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Furthermore, Kummer wants to know, and is calling on the administration to disclose materials on “any success criteria” for aid programs as well as “any conditions imposed on funds provided as aid to Ukraine.”
The letter was intended for Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Administrator Samantha Powers of the US Agency for International Development. The White House knew it was coming. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said before the midterms that the Republican House would not write a “blank check” to Ukraine, and it was only a matter of time before the GOP made good on that oversight promise.
There are reasons for concern. While Zelensky rose to power on a platform of fighting corruption, the former Eastern Bloc country has a history of struggling with government fraud and graft. They regularly rank at the bottom of international corruption indexes, a record that has alarmed ardent defense war supporters.
When Sen. Angus King traveled to Ukraine last month, the Maine independent told the Republican Revolutionary Congress he warned Zelensky that misappropriation of money or misplaced weapons could undermine support in the West: “I said scandal would really screw this up.”
This message was well received. According to King, “He got it right away.” But verbal assurances are not enough to assuage Republican fears, and according to the Ukraine Response Report’s joint strategic oversight plan, the administration has struggled to account for exactly all the billions spent. The Pentagon’s inspector general, for example, warned that the department is “unable to provide end-use monitoring in accordance with DoD policy.”
Related: Congress Spends Over $100 Billion in Aid to Ukraine in the First Year of the Invasion
One specific area Comer demands answers about: Policy requires tracking of serial numbers on weapons and ammunition, as USA Today and others have pointed out previously, to ensure they are used as intended.
Congress has appropriated $113 billion in economic and security assistance to Ukraine since Russian tanks rolled in across the border. Over two decades, by comparison, the United States has spent $146 billion sending military and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
The administration insists it takes corruption seriously and has taken steps to protect against it since the beginning of the conflict. According to John Kirby, who said last month that they had not seen any malign actions yet, neither the military nor the financial assistance “fell prey to any kind of corruption in Ukraine.”
“Correct,” Biden’s national security spokesperson responded unreservedly when asked by the RCP to confirm that the administration had not yet identified any previous misuse of equipment or misappropriation of funds from the United States.
The Oversight Committee highlighted this exchange in light of reports that Zelensky had sacked several senior officials who were allegedly involved in bribery and misuse of public funds. “Based on Mr. Kirby’s observations, the US National Security Council appears unaware of this corruption scandal, adding to concerns that US agencies are not overseeing taxpayer assistance to Ukraine,” Kummer wrote in the letter.
But responding directly to the reports, Kirby told reporters that the firing of senior Ukrainian officials showed how Zelensky and the United States shared concerns about corruption allegations and “he clearly takes it very seriously.” That sentiment was later echoed by Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the staffing changes in Kiev sent “a very strong signal to others who are going to try to uproot this war effort.”
If Comer receives the signal from afar, he does not see anything reassuring in it. The board chairman wrote that agencies must work overtime to ensure that US taxpayer money spent in Ukraine is used for “intended purposes to prevent and reduce risks of waste, fraud, and abuse.”
The Kentucky Republican called on the administration to provide detailed information on any anti-corruption efforts going back to February 24 of last year, the date of the Russian invasion. His committee expects this material “as soon as possible,” but has given the department two weeks’ notice. The Oversight Committee expects this information “no later than March 8, 2023.”
A senior administration official told RCP in January that Biden believes “oversight is critical” and that the administration “takes very seriously our responsibility to work with the Ukrainian government to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place so that U.S.-funded assistance reaches those it is targeting.” is meant.”
The official emphasized that they had “not seen credible evidence” of US military aid being used anywhere but on the battlefield, and the RCP referred to the government’s entire plan to “prevent and combat the illicit diversion of weapons and military equipment.” The State Department released the plan last October, eight months after the conflict began and long after Congress appropriated tens of billions of dollars in aid.
They also noted that the economic assistance is managed by the World Bank. The administration is contracting with the national consulting firm Deloitte as an outside watchdog to “review the financial controls and procedures used by the Government of Ukraine to track and oversee U.S. funds.” USAID manages the humanitarian aid and, according to the official, that agency has internal safeguards to combat fraud while hiring an unnamed outside contractor to monitor the funds.
Republicans say these steps are vague and cold at best given the past two decades of past experience. When it comes to the World Bank and NGOs, they demand all materials on how multilateral organizations are employed and want “any information regarding any oversight mechanisms”.
“We have learned from efforts in Afghanistan that the World Bank does not always have effective monitoring and accounting of funds, and often lacks transparency,” Kummer wrote, before adding that “unrealistic timelines and expectations that prioritize spending quickly increase corruption and reduce effectiveness.” .of programs.”
Conservatives have long been wary of massive government spending. Nothing changed, Comer told RCP last month, just because the war broke out. “With any huge government spending comes the opportunity for waste, fraud, mismanagement and mismanagement,” he said. “Ukrainian aid is no different.”
While the White House gives Ukraine high marks for the steps they have taken to root out wrongdoing, they insist they are watching. After all, Kirby told reporters last month, corruption remains a constant risk in all conflicts. “You can’t forget that,” he said. “I mean, it’s war.”
Shared with permission from RealClearWire.
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