The hefty -- and growing --bill for the war efforts may be getting some new auditors. Over the past three years, Congress has approved $320 billion for military spending over and above the regular Department of Defense budget, which itself has risen about 40% since 2001. But "oversight was lax," contends Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who sits on the Armed Services Committee. As Pentagon officials head to Capitol Hill next week to start defending this year's $70 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan, there's new scrutiny of where all the cash is going.
The Department of Defense's inspector general, which some analysts charge has been slow to investigate war spending, will open its first office in the Middle East next week. And a new watchdog project called Follow the Money will begin monitoring from the outside. It's sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and led by Dina Rasor, an investigator who helped uncover the Pentagon procurement scandals of the 1980s. "Normal oversight systems have not been in place," Rasor says. "Troops are getting what they don't need but not getting what they do need. One soldier told us that although his unit could not get enough armor, it got a 60-in., $15,000 plasma TV to watch the daily brief, but the dust ruined it--just like it did the nine others they got to replace the first one."
According to Senator Reed, Pentagon officials should also expect questions on the Hill about what is not being spent. Case in point: the Marine Corps, traditionally the most frugal of the services, has borne the brunt of the burden of fighting in Iraq, yet has seen billions pared from its funding. The Marines' new special-ops unit--a pet project of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's--wanted $65 million for such equipment as sophisticated nightscopes and computer-mapping systems, but the Administration refused the request. The Marines are still flying around Iraq in Vietnam-era helicopters--yet $1 billion was cut from the program for the choppers' only replacement aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. The Marines were able to establish the long-awaited first squadron last week but say they need more funding to replace aging aircraft. "It is unconscionable," says a military officer, "that the one new aircraft that could clearly help them in Iraq is getting cut."