WHO SHOULD control the billions of dollars that foreign governments are contributing toward the cost of operation Desert Shield? The Pentagon has come up with the bright idea that it should. True, the Constitution says "no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law." But this is a special circumstance, the national interest is involved, and what if the money never reaches the Treasury in the first place?

The administration's proposal is that a special gift fund be created, on which it could draw to finance the operation in the Saudi desert without having to go to Congress for step-by-step approval. Of course it would keep Congress informed and not violate congressional strictures, but. . .

Nice try, but no cigar. The face-off with Saddam Hussein should not be the pretext or precedent for a detour around the Constitution. A Congress still smarting over the extralegal funding, also from foreign sources, of the Iran-contra affair is hardly likely to authorize such a fund, nor should it, nor should a prudent administration ask.

The Pentagon is presumably anxious to make sure that as little as possible of the cost of Desert Shield is taken out of its regular budget. Defense officials may think that by paying part of the cost from a separate fund, they would reduce their exposure; there would be less left to argue about. No doubt they covet the flexibility that separate funding would provide as well.

But the foreign contributions ought to go to the Treasury, then become a resource for Congress to take into account like any other in allocating funds. The contributions are meant to reduce the burden on the U.S. government generally, not just the burden on the Pentagon. Congress has the power of the purse, and not just part of the purse, but all of it.