Military Spending Raises Questions
Lawmakers: Bush Bypassed Congress
By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page A17
When Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio) went on an inspection trip to several Persian Gulf countries in the summer of 2002, he was dazzled by the state-of-the-art command centers, airstrips and other facilities being built there for the U.S. military.
But he was also troubled. Some of what he saw or learned from military briefers had not been approved by the House Appropriations Committee panel on military construction, which he then chaired. "I knew I didn't have that kind of money," he quipped recently.
Hobson's inquiries ultimately led to a modest tightening of controls over the Pentagon's ability to move money between military accounts without prior approval from Congress. But the episode has sparked concerns on the part of some lawmakers that the Bush administration largely bypassed Congress as it expanded installations in the Persian Gulf region before the war with Iraq.
President Bush has acknowledged that months before Congress voted an Iraq war resolution in October 2002, he approved about 30 projects in Kuwait that helped set the stage for war, with "no real knowledge or involvement" of Congress, according to "Plan of Attack," a new book by Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post.
A Pentagon briefing paper supplied to Congress after publication of the Woodward book states that by July 2002, "in the course of preparing for a contingency in Iraq, U.S. Central Command [Centcom] developed rough estimates of $750 million in preparatory tasks."
In August and September, the Pentagon said, $178 million was made available for 21 projects, mainly in Kuwait, involving communications equipment, fuel supplies, humanitarian rations and Centcom's forward headquarters.
In Kuwait, the projects included repairs of airfield lighting and upgrades of munitions storage at the Al Jaber and Al Salem air bases; an inland petroleum-distribution system facility; a detention center to supplement the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and preparation of facilities to "support deployment of Army forces." A $15 million allocation was granted to "provide for communications equipment, utilities, equipment and sustainment support for the U.S. base at Arifjan Base Camp in Kuwait."
Also approved was money to build a forward operating headquarters in As Sayliyah in Qatar and upgrade ammunition storage and handling facilities in Oman.
Testifying last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz has partly disputed Woodward's account, saying that nothing was built in the region before October that had Iraq as the "exclusive purpose."
In a statement to The Post last week, the Defense Department said it had "provided all the notification for war on terrorism efforts required by Congress."
But the extent to which key congressional committees were given details of the prewar buildup is now a matter of contention between the Pentagon and some senior lawmakers, who say that, at the least, the Pentagon failed to follow the spirit of the laws requiring consultation.
In August, Hobson and aides traveled to Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and saw work underway or learned about projects that had not been approved by the military construction subcommittee.
"I did what any congressman would do," Hobson said in an interview last week. "Our role in appropriations is to find money [for projects] but also to look and see where the funding is going."
Initially, however, Pentagon officials provided few details to Hobson and his aides, he said. They argued that the spending was legal under guidelines that allowed the military to transfer funds appropriated for "operations and maintenance" into a "contingency" construction account when the military needs to build facilities in territory that is not under U.S. control.
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