Obama Administration Helped Kill Transparency Requirement for Foreign Military Aid

Thursday, September 19, 2013

President Barack Obama’s championing the cause of greater transparency in government did not stop his administration from pressuring Congress to kill legislation that required more disclosures relating to foreign military aid.


Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives considered a bill last year that would require more transparency and evaluation of all foreign aid programs, including military assistance.


But administration officials lobbied the bill’s authors to exempt security assistance from the mandate, according to a letter obtained by ProPublica and interviews with congressional staffers.


The Department of Defense wrote that it “strongly” opposed the plan, saying its “extensive public reporting requirements raise concerns.”


“Country A could…potentially learn what Country B has received in military assistance,” the letter said.


The Pentagon and the State Department “really are scared” by the transparency efforts, a House staffer who worked on last year’s bill told ProPublica. “They’re afraid of transparency about what the money is funding, where the weapons are going, who is getting training.”


The administration’s complaints succeeded in getting changes to the bill, which cleared the House. The Senate, however, never voted on the legislation.


Similar bills have been introduced this year in both houses of Congress. However, this time out, a waiver has been added that allows the Secretary of State to exempt programs from the disclosure mandate if he believes doing so is in the “national interest.” But he must identify such programs and explain his reason for the exemption. This will make it “a bit more difficult” to get administration support for the bill’s passage, a House aide told ProPublica. So far, the administration has not taken a clear position on the measures.


One State Department official suggested that opposition to the bill could come from a view that Congress would be “legislating something that [is] aligned with what we’ve already got going on.” The reference is to the White House requirement that federal agencies exercise transparency by disclosing its budget data on the foreignassistance.gov public dashboard. But this data is incomplete or, as in the case of the Defense Department (which has an ever-increasing role in foreign aid), presented only in generic categories, according to ProPublica. The transparency bill would turn the White House directive into law.


The bill would also require the State Department to establish a means to evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid as it is managed by each agency.


The U.S. spends about $25 billion annually on security assistance.


ProPublica noted that this money is not always wisely spent. For example, the U.S. military bought $771 million worth of aircraft this year for Afghanistan’s air force, even though most of its pilots don’t know how to fly them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Obama Administration Helped Kill Transparency Push on Military Aid (by Cora Currier, ProPublica)

DOD Objections: Unclassified Documents (ProPublica)

Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 (U.S. House of Representatives)

Two Thirds of U.S. Foreign Aid is Really Military Aid (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)           

U.S. Aid Money Funding Afghan Insurgents (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)                          

U.S. Has Given More Than $14 Billion in Security Aid to Pakistan Since 9/11 (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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