Page 2 of 2   <      

U.S. Payments To Pakistan Face New Scrutiny

Some regional specialists question whether the Pentagon's money is being well spent. "The amount that's been spent on the Coalition Support Fund, given the results, is a reminder that the Pakistani will just might not be there," Cohen said. "Most Pakistanis see this as America's war."

Congressional officials and others are concerned that the administration has been so eager to prop up Musharraf that it overlooked U.S. foreign aid and accounting standards. A congressional oversight subcommittee is also set to begin an investigation next month, while the Government Accountability Office plans to finish its own inquiry in April.

"We have had an enormous amount of money going out there since 9/11, and I'm not satisfied that we're getting the kind of accounting that would warrant a determination that this is money well spent, or whether we should change the direction of the money and get more bang for our buck another way," said Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) chairman of the national security and foreign affairs subcommittee of the oversight committee looking into the program.

In a closed-door hearing in December, for example, Hill staffers pressed Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, to provide receipts for every Pakistani expense over $1 million, a request the State Department has not yet met. The U.S. government generally requires receipts when it reimburses entities for expenses.

A payment process that looks too loose in Washington is seen as too tight in Pakistan, however. Over the past four months, Musharraf complained to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte about delays in Washington's payment, which can take five to eight months, U.S. officials said.

The process is laborious, officials acknowledge, with many players blaming one another for allowing the Pakistani bills to move through the system without stronger oversight.

After the spreadsheets are delivered, officials at the U.S. Embassy try to verify that Pakistan incurred expenses in support of combat activity on the Afghan border. "It's a big job to go through and figure out what the Pakistanis have spent. The State Department doesn't know the toys," said the second U.S. official familiar with policy.

He added: "The embassy doesn't have the manpower or expertise to tell whether an aviator widget doohickey costs 50 or 50,000 rupees, or to find out if they really burned out four aviatics packages in an Apache helicopter and, if so, could we see them because maybe they only need maintenance." This first review takes about a month, officials say.

The spreadsheets then go to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, where officials evaluate claims and recommend reimbursement if the expenditures meet U.S. strategy. But the U.S. Embassy's initial approval greases much of the rest of the process, U.S. officials said. This second review takes about six weeks, the sources said.

The Pakistani bills then go to the Pentagon, where comptrollers determine whether they are reasonable and credible, based in part of the costs of fielding U.S. troops, a senior Pentagon official said. That third review takes about five weeks, U.S. officials said.

The bills are then sent to the Office of Management and Budget, where officials have expressed concern about poor documentation but have little leverage at this stage of the process to challenge them, several U.S. officials said. The undersecretaries of defense and state then formally concur that the operations are consistent with U.S. policy and that they do not change the regional balance of power.

The Pentagon next notifies the four Senate and House defense oversight committees. If no congressional holds are issued within 15 days -- and none have been so far in six years -- the Pentagon issues a check five days later.

Administration officials insist that the U.S. arrangement with Pakistan is unique. "Don't compare it to an audit," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "They are a sovereign government assisting us rather than someone who works for us. They are an ally. They are acting on our behalf to go after terrorists in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."

Added a senior Pentagon official: "The last thing we'd want is boxes and boxes of crumpled receipts."

To resolve tensions over the program, Congress, the State Department, and the Office of Management and Budget have all argued for the money to be tied to specific counterterrorism programs, rather than general military support. But some officials still worry that adding conditions would lead Islamabad to reduce cooperation on the most pivotal frontline in fighting extremism.

"We don't want to offend the Pakistanis," said the second U.S. official familiar with the policy. "What if the balance of their calculus changes and they decide that cooperation is more than it's worth? We do have to take that into account."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company