By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Presenting an unusual combined front against skeptical lawmakers, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Congress yesterday to extend and make permanent a set of initiatives to train and equip foreign security forces and deploy civilian experts alongside the U.S. military.
The programs, part of a proposed Building Global Partnerships Act, involve the flexible use of Pentagon funds for traditional State Department activities in foreign assistance -- an arrangement that Gates and Rice praised as an innovation in interagency cooperation but that lawmakers questioned as "ad hoc" and "stopgap."
During the House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates and Rice displayed their collegial relations, as if to fend off objections. "Our bureaucracies know we don't like to fight with each other," Gates quipped at one point.
The largest program under scrutiny, known as Global Train and Equip, allows both departments to help countries build forces to counter terrorists and other threats. Launched in 2006, it targets countries where the United States is not at war, such as Chad, Indonesia and Yemen. It has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to projects such as night training to improve the Pakistani military's ability to target al-Qaeda, and providing ammunition to the Lebanese army to pursue Hezbollah.
Gates and Rice seek to increase funding authority for the program from $300 million a year to $750 million, make it permanent and expand it to allow assistance to police and paramilitary forces. The program is to expire at the end of September.
Another program allows the Pentagon to transfer $100 million a year to the State Department to increase the deployment of civilian officials to help stabilize countries in the wake of conflicts. Under the latest proposal, the authorized funding would increase to $200 million and the program would be extended for five years. In a related effort, the State Department has requested $248 million to create a corps of 3,750 diplomats, other federal employees and civilians who could be called on to respond quickly to overseas contingencies.
A third facet of the proposal would make permanent a program that allows U.S. Special Operations Forces to spend $25 million annually to pay or supply equipment to indigenous forces that support their clandestine operations.
Gates and Rice said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the need for more flexible spending authority that blends the strengths of both departments -- emphasizing the disparity between State's responsibilities and its resources.
Rice pointed out that the Foreign Service is about 6,500 strong, about the same as the number of musicians in military bands. Gates castigated Congress for not giving State "the resources or the power to be able to play the role as the lead agency in American foreign policy."
Lawmakers said they agree with the secretaries' goals but defended the traditional departmental roles.
The proposal "appears to be the migration of State Department activities to the Defense Department," said the committee chairman, Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said he has sought to avoid "increasing reliance on our nation's military personnel . . . who are actively engaged in combat operations and who need every single penny . . . that we're providing them."