Jul 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Republicans hammer Pentagon’s $6.2 billion Ukraine accounting error

Sen. Josh Hawley. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Senate conservatives are lending their voices to scrutiny of Department of Defense accounting errors allowing the U.S. to send another $6.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: It's the latest effort by GOP lawmakers to question the calculation as NATO countries meet in Lithuania this week for a summit that will focus heavily on the war in Ukraine.

  • House Oversight Committee Republicans requested a Pentagon briefing on the matter last week, saying it "raises more concerns about DOD’s ability to protect taxpayer funds."

The context: Defense Department officials revealed in May that they had overvalued equipment the U.S. sent to Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion by $3.2 billion, revising the number to $6.2 billion the following month.

  • Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said in a June 20 briefing that the government used the value of replacing weapons sent to Ukraine, rather than the relatively cheaper cost of the weapons themselves, in a "a significant number of cases."

The state of play: Republican Ukraine hawks initially reacted with frustration that the errors, first discovered in March, were shared with Congress two months later and that they meant less equipment for Ukraine in advance of this year's spring offensive.

  • Conservatives are now alleging it's the Pentagon's way of doing an end-run around Congress, which, after appropriating $113 billion in aid to Ukraine, is finding it increasingly difficult to reach bipartisan consensus on the issue.

Driving the news: Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and four other conservative opponents of U.S. aid to Ukraine sent Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a letter, first obtained by Axios, asking questions about the Pentagon's explanation of the errors.

  • The questions hone in on the Pentagon's methodology for calculating the value of equipment and its consistency in using one formula over the other, with the lawmakers alleging "a transparent attempt to bypass Congress for additional funds."
  • "The true cost to American taxpayers for supporting Ukraine is therefore the replacement cost, not the net book value," the letter says.
  • The group also accused the Pentagon of prioritizing Ukraine over "more vital U.S. interests" such as China, writing, "This is yet another example of why we do not support further appropriations to Ukraine."

Besides Hawley, the letter, which requests answers by Aug. 10, was signed by Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

What we're watching: The additional $6.2 billion in aid is sure to serve as ammunition in the right's fight against additional Ukraine aid in upcoming legislative battles on the defense authorization and appropriations bills.

  • One of the questions in the letter directly references a legislative push in the National Defense Authorization Act, asking how a special inspector general for Ukraine aid would assist the Pentagon in its accounting.
  • The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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