Show Us the Money: The Pentagon’s Foreign Aid Budget Rivals Sate Department’s in Dollars, Not in Transparency

March 20, 2014

As the U.S. military prepares to exit Afghanistan, its future strategy will be based on a light footprint: Its focus will be to partner with professional, capable military forces to address local security challenges, according to the Pentagon’s just-released Quadrennial Defense Review.

This strategy, led by the military’s Combatant Commanders, has evolved over time. It began with the “War on Drugs” in the 1990s and became central to the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During the past decade, Congress has authorized the Pentagon to provide more and more direct assistance to foreign forces to counter terrorism or maintain the status quo (stability).

But, unlike the State Department, the Pentagon does not have to provide any accounting of how and where it spends money on foreign military assistance. The Pentagon doles out its assistance with little coherence and even less public scrutiny. This makes it difficult if not impossible for Congress to know how much taxpayer money is being spent on foreign armies and police units.

Without basic accountability, impact and effectiveness cannot be measured. Fortunately, there’s a simple fix: the Pentagon should have to provide the same level of accountability as the Department of State, which traditionally has been the largest provider of foreign military and police assistance.

Thanks to a one-time report by a government advisory board led by former Defense Secretary Bill Perry there is comprehensive data for 2012. In 2012 the Pentagon provided nearly twice the amount of assistance to foreign police and military as the State Department—$16.2 billion in equipment, weaponry and training from the DOD budget, compared to less than $8 billion from the State Department’s funds.

Before the State Department provides assistance, it is required by law to provide Congress and the public with the rationale behind the assistance proposed for the coming fiscal year. This annual report also estimates how much taxpayer money will be spent on every program in every country in the current year and details the actual amounts spent in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department isn’t required to give Congress and the public a comprehensive picture of its planned spending or anything to justify what it will spend.

The Pentagon is currently only required to submit reports that summarize its spending to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The reports lump together 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—they cannot be found on the Committees’ websites or on any government website.

There’s no reason why the Pentagon should not be held to the same standards as the State Department if it is going to be in the business of providing foreign military and police assistance.

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.

Related Posts: Global Human Rights & Foreign Aid / Transparency & Accountability / U.S. National Security & Human Rights