Tag Archives: Congress

How Bells, Whistles And Greed Blow Up The Defense Budget

Northrop Grumman unveils the U.S. Navy MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aircraft system during a ceremony at the Northrop Grumman Palmdale Calif. manufacturing facility. (U.S. Navy/public domain)


“By simply shoveling money at the Pentagon, Congress actually hinders good military thinking.

Free-flowing money provides service leaders license to pursue excessively complex weapons programs with the mistaken belief that wars can be won simply by having more technology than our adversaries.


“Even as the movement to think critically about cutting the Pentagon’s budget slowly gains ground, wrong-headed arguments in favor of boosting military spending without question still prevail.

Just take a recent column in Defense One from Dakota Wood of the Heritage Foundation, who attempted to make the case that the character of the modern military operations justify $740 billion Pentagon budgets. In it, he claims that cost reductions just aren’t possible since arms and personnel costs have exploded faster than inflation since World War II.

Yet, he failed in most cases to address why military costs have grown so much and how increased budgets exacerbate problematic weapons programs.

The reality is, according to John Boyd, the legendary military thinker and central figure of the Reagan-era military reform movement, wars are won by good people using innovative ideas. The weapons they use are mere tools. As anyone who has tinkered around their garage knows, the best tools are the simple, reliable ones specifically engineered for the task at hand.

Sadly, the members of the military industrial congressional complex do not seem to understand this. They bought an aircraft carrier so loaded up with unproven technology that it is already five years behind schedule and still has at least three years of work to go before it can set sail. They will spend more than $400 billion to buy a fighter plane that can’t shoot straight.

The weapons the Pentagon buys are too often needlessly complex and thus unnecessarily expensive. While they are sold as vast improvements over earlier weapons, the new versions often provide only marginally improved capabilities in the best cases, but are way more expensive than their predecessors. Just as often, in the pursuit of new capabilities, the excessively complex weapons are actually less effective than what came before them. And the increased logistics and maintenance burdens make the systems even more expensive while reducing the overall combat effectiveness.

The Space Force’s Real Mission: Wasting Taxpayer Dollars

The newly created United States Space Force wasted little time in attempting to skirt the rules governing how it spends taxpayer money.Read More

These overly complex weapons often serve as a distraction on the battlefield because they force the troops to spend far too much time focused internally on what’s necessary to get the finicky contraptions to work. This distracts them from where their focus should be: on how to fight the enemy. Training becomes an issue as well because it takes far longer to teach someone how to use the new systems. For a force that is already burdened with more required training events than it has time to execute properly, the Pentagon should not further encumber troops with training on overly complicated weapons systems.

Defense contractors intentionally load up their products with as many gadgets as possible because by doing so they make more money. They receive money on the front end during the development process, and then make more money on the back end through lucrative long-term sustainment contracts.

Wood’s argument that the only way to deal with adversary technology is with better technology is also false. We don’t need to out-engineer the Russias and Chinas of the world, we need to out-think them. For virtually every high-tech weapon, there is a low-tech counter. Our struggles to deal with IEDs in Iraq is the perfect example of this. The Pentagon spent $20 billion to develop counter-IED systems only to come to the realization that nothing worked as well as a dog.

In the meantime, the ever-increasing costs of weapons mean that the services can afford to purchase fewer of them.

For example, the Air Force originally planned to purchase 132 B-2 “Spirit” bombers. As costs spiraled upward, the Pentagon pared back the total fleet size until just 21 were built at a total program cost of $2.1 billion a piece. The B-21 is being developed now along similar lines and could suffer the same fate. Interestingly, the Air Force has plans to retire the flashy B-2, which entered the fleet in 1993, but plans to retain the 1950s vintage B-52, proving that simpler technology has its advantages.

The overall effect is that the American people end up spending more and receiving less. Wood points out that the Pentagon budget in 1970 was $78.5 billion, which, adjusted for inflation, would be the equivalent of $521 billion in 2020. He says that the $713 billion 2020 defense budget is only 27 percent higher. This is a misleading claim. The 1970 defense budget included a great deal of spending that is not included in Pentagon budgets now. Today, many of those costs are spread between the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Energy, and the Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies. When all the defense-related spending across the various departments are added together, the American taxpayers were asked to spend more than $1.21 trillion this year.

The Complexity Vortex

The character of American military spending comports quite well with the law of diminishing returns.Read More

What does that support? The $78.5 billion in 1970 supported an active duty force of 3,066,294. The active duty force in 2020 is 480,000. So, the American people are paying 130% more for a force that is 84% smaller.

A recent proposal would have cut 10 percent from the Pentagon’s budget. Wood’s column demonstrates how nervous the defense industry becomes whenever someone threatens the free-flow of money from the treasury to their coffers.

Like most similar efforts, this latest budget cutting proposal was sold as a means of freeing up funds for domestic programs. President Eisenhower once said that for “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” His words ring especially true today as lawmakers debate how best to deliver resources to people and businesses most adversely impacted by the COVID response.

Just as importantly, cutting the Pentagon’s budget would also serve a useful military purpose. It would force service leaders to think harder about what they buy and why they buy it. In order to get the force size they want, they would have to pursue simpler designs rather than the highly complex systems that have become the norm today. In warfare, good enough beats sexy. It’s time the military industrial congressional complex learns that lesson.”


Citizen-Soldiers Vs. Soldier-Citizens

Image Courtesy “Spike.com”


The divide between America’s soldier-citizens and the society they serve has a significant impact on policy decisions and military budgets.

Exploring the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in “Killing for the Republic” with  Dr. Steele Brand.”


“The veneration of service members in the United States today manifests benignly in the refrain, “Thank you for your service,” and the much appreciated discounts at the local home improvement center, but this reverence can also have less benign effects. The number of retired flag officers serving in high government positions, sitting on the boards of defense contractors, and appearing as talking heads on television shapes policy, which in turn drives Pentagon budgets.

Dr. Steele Brand, a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City, explored the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in his recent book, “Killing for the Republic.Republican Rome produced highly adaptive armies with farmers who would moonlight as effective soldiers during the campaigning season and then return to their families and plows—a practice that helped to remove the barriers between the military and the society it served, according to Brand. He says Rome’s part-time soldiers faced an uphill battle against enemy professionals, but that their ability to adapt meant they usually prevailed in the end. In this interview, Dr. Brand explains the differences between the Roman and American models of training soldiers and how those differences contribute to the civilian-military divide.”


COVID-19 Enhances Pentagon Cyber Policy Commission Report Recommendations



“The importance of having that one person, that singular belly button in the executive branch who’s coordinating efforts across government .

So that you don’t have to create an ad hoc task force, [so] you’re not scrambling to find who are the right people we need in the room after the crisis has already occurred,” Co-Chairman Rep.Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. Gallagher


“A co-chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission said April 22 that the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill could include about 30 percent of the group’s cyber policy recommendations.

According to Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who co-chairs the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which released a report with more than 75 cyber policy recommendations March 11, said on a webinar hosted by Palo Alto Networks that commission staff is working with the appropriate congressional committees and subcommittees to put about 30 percent of its recommendations into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The report proposed a three-pronged strategy for securing cyberspace, called layered deterrence: shape behavior, deny benefit and impose cost.

The report also takes U.S. Cyber Command’s “defend forward” policy, which allows the military to take a more aggressive approach in cyberspace. It also suggests broadening the policy to encompass the entire federal government.

Gallagher didn’t specifically identify recommendations he thinks will be included in the NDAA, but given that the bill focuses on authorizing Defense Department programs, Pentagon-specific recommendations are the likeliest to be in the legislative text.

The recommendations for the department focus on ensuring that the Cyber Mission Force is adequately equipped; establishing vulnerability assessments for weapons and nuclear control systems; sharing threat intelligence; and threat hunting of the networks of the defense-industrial base.

The spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, disrupted the commission report’s rollout, which included congressional hearings on the commission’s recommendation. Those hearings have been canceled. But the pandemic also highlights the need to implement recommendations made in the report, Gallagher said, specifically the establishment of a national cyber director in the White House.

“The importance of having that one person, that singular belly button in the executive branch who’s coordinating efforts across government so that you don’t have to create an ad hoc task force, [so] you’re not scrambling to find who are the right people we need in the room after the crisis has already occurred,” Gallagher said

Before the spread of the coronavirus, congressional committees had planned to host hearings on the commission report, but those were canceled after the coronavirus spread throughout the United States. Congress is currently wrestling with how to remotely conduct voting and committee business, as the pandemic is restricting gatherings of large groups of people.

“Even though coronavirus has complicated some of … our commission rollout, we’re continuing the legislative process right now, and I’m pretty optimistic about our ability to shape this year’s NDAA,” Gallagher said.

As for the other recommendations, Gallagher said they aren’t germane to the NDAA and will take “some time.”


New “Space Force” Needs Acquisition Law Changes From Congress



Some 16,000 active duty and civilian personnel being “re-assigned” to the Space Force, and eventually will be officially re-commissioned as “spacemen” or whatever moniker is chosen — something that Thompson told the annual Air Force Association meeting here yesterday will happen soon.

Those processes are not simple, he said, and will require new legal authorities.


“The Air Force is poised to begin reorganization of how it will transform space acquisition at the end of March and that will require legal changes only Congress can make, says Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson.

The report to lawmakers will make “recommendations for what a new acquisition approach should look like,” he told reporters here in Orlando late yesterday. “As you know, Congress gave us established in law the Space Acquisition Council. That already has formed its set of initial recommendations about how that body is going to function, and a whole series of recommendations to approve primarily the acquisition approach for the Space Force.”

The new council, along with the creation of a new assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, was mandated by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. That person will oversee SMC, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO), and the nascent Space Development Agency (SDA). In October 2022, whoever holds that position will also become the Air Force service acquisition executive for space systems and programs.

As Breaking D readers know, one idea rolling around the Pentagon is to lump SMC, SDA and SpRCO together under a new Space Force entity called Space Systems Command. However, there is internal disagreement on whether all the organizations must be moved and a reluctance to change anything hastily, given that DoD has two years to decide what it wants to do regarding space acquisition and perhaps even convince Congress to change its mind. In particular, there is some question as to whether SDA’s acquisition authority will move from Undersecretary for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin to the new space acquisition secretary.

Thompson suggested that the recommendations would go beyond simply laying out the role of the new secretary.

“The good news is, we’ve been given such a tremendous opportunity that we don’t have to stop there,” he said. For example, “we’re looking at the requirements approach.”

Further, he said, it will include requests to Congress to give the Air Force the “authority to create that 21st century, rapid, clean, agile acquisition force.”

But, he cautioned, while there will be a number of “very specific recommendations,” the report will not include “the full and total and complete bounds of the last dotted i and crossed t of every specific aspect.”

In another of the monthly reports on Space Force due to Congress, the Air Force will explain its “total force management approach” for figuring out how many, and by what process, airmen will be shifted to the Space Force.”

Bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission Will Report In Early 2020

Image: “LinkedIn


The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a bipartisan group tasked last year with devising a strategy for defending the U.S. against cyberattacks, is almost ready to reveal its proposals to the world.


“The commission’s final report, expected to be issued in March or April, may include new reporting requirements for the private sector that would incentivize better security practices, the commission’s co-chairs, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., said Tuesday during a Council on Foreign Relations summit in Washington, D.C.

While the final language is unclear, the report is expected to include a sweeping set of proposals ranging from an overhaul of congressional oversight on cybersecurity issues to an assessment of the Pentagon’s offensive and defensive readiness. Whether there’s broader appetite outside of the 14-member commission to implement the recommendations, however, remains to be seen.

One idea the commission has entertained is convincing insurance companies to offer better rates to clients who follow specific guidelines meant to bolster their cybersecurity, King said. Insurance companies already are incentivizing clients to work with cybersecurity vendors considered more likely to stop data breaches, as CyberScoop has reported.

“How do we ensure they are at some minimal level of cybersecurity?” King said. “The insurance company will say to the company if you do these things your rate will be ‘x,’ if you don’t do these things it will be ‘2x.’”

The commission also has considered reporting requirements that would encourage companies to decrease the time it takes them to detect, evaluate, and remediate possible network intrusions.

The so-called 1:10:60 rule has been helpful in debating possible requirements, Gallagher said. That rule encourages firms to detect intrusions in one minute, have an analyst evaluate it in 10 minutes, and remediate it within 60 minutes. Meeting this benchmark, according to CrowdStrike data, would eradicate most hackers before they’re able to move beyond their initial entry point.

“You can imagine a world in which we require regulated companies or critical infrastructure to collect 1:10:60 data or something similar,” Gallagher said.

The focus of any such proposal would be to hold companies accountable in case of a breach, Gallagher said.

How the exact proposal on reporting detection and remediation might be adopted, however, is still being debated. In the meantime, Gallagher noted, the federal government could improve its own internal reporting, perhaps by sending Congress quarterly updates about agencies’ detection and remediation times.

Changing behavior in Washington, too

The Solarium’s report may present Congress with some structural proposals that could enhance its oversight of cybersecurity issues, the co-chairs said.

The commission is unanimous that Congress needs to change how it conducts cybersecurity oversight, according to King, and the Solarium report may present lawmakers with proposals on how to expands their visibility into cybersecurity gaps. One way to do that could be to create a select committee to oversee cybersecurity issues, he said.

For now, it seems, many of the commission’s proposals will be focused on “enhancing” the role of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Hiring initiatives may be a priority, Gallagher suggested.

Recommendations for the White House could make an appearance in the final report as well.

“There is near unanimity on the need to get a focal point in the White House to do oversight of the cyber community,” Gallagher said.

The White House cybersecurity coordinator, a role that then-national security adviser John Bolton eliminated in 2018, has not resurfaced despite Bolton’s departure.

The commission also will mandate the Pentagon conduct internal assessments of the operational capacity of different cyber personnel in the Department of Defense. Such a change could provide insight on how U.S. Cyber Command personnel, for example, are functioning under a new Pentagon strategy of being more aggressive in cyberspace, known as “defending forward,” according to Gallagher.

The commission has also been debating how hiring can and should be different for cybersecurity posts at the Pentagon.

“Do you need a cyberwarrior to do 100 pushups? We don’t want to lower the standards of the military, but we need to be able to tailor the requirements to the job,” King said.”

Foreign Influence at the Witness Table?


Foreign Influence at the Witness Table

Illustration by POGO


“A POGO investigation has found numerous loopholes that keep Congress and the public in the dark about the extent of foreign governments’ financial relationships with Congressional witnesses.

Some think tanks had been receiving millions in funding from foreign governments, with little or no disclosure.”

“On any given day, it’s not uncommon to see experts from various Washington, DC, think tanks testify at Congressional hearings. On everything from Middle East policy to nuclear nonproliferation, Congress relies on these experts to provide outside input and help shape future U.S. policy.

The House of Representatives had adopted the rule, which obligates non-governmental Congressional witnesses to disclose foreign funding when it relates to the subject of the hearing at which they’re testifying, after multiple investigations revealed some think tanks had been receiving millions in funding from foreign governments, with little or no disclosure.

Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) proposed the rule change in response to a 2014 New York Times investigation by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore, which detailed the extent of foreign government donations to prominent DC think tanks. The piece highlighted questions about whether such organizations would be required to disclose those relationships under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a law that requires foreign lobbyists and public-relations managers to register with the Department of Justice.

The Times investigation elevated concerns raised in a 2007 Harpers exposé by Ken Silverstein (who is now a journalist in residence at POGO). After the Times story, lawmakers grew increasingly concerned that think tanks might be pushing the perspectives or agendas of their foreign funders without disclosing the relationship.

“While this funding may not distort the testimony of these witnesses, this financial support should be disclosed for Members to appropriately assess potential conflicts,” Representative Speier stated.

All non-governmental witnesses are required to file Truth In Testimony forms disclosing specific information about any U.S. government grants or contracts they have received. The 2015 House rule simply added a requirement that such witnesses also disclose any grants or contracts they or their organization have received in the last two years from a foreign government related to the subject of the hearing. That wording is weaker than Representative Speier intended, as what is related to the hearing can be subjective and compounds the bias problems inherent to self-reporting. Furthermore, the House Rules Committee has issued guidance to some think tanks that if their experts are invited to testify as individuals rather than as representatives of the organization, they do not have to disclose the institution’s funding. This creates a huge loophole in the disclosure requirement. And, aside from the threat of a specific member making a critical statement on the House floor, there is no penalty for those who violate the rule.

The names of some of the biggest DC think tanks are synonymous with independent, fact-based research and writing. However, there is no requirement for think tanks to disclose their funders, foreign or otherwise, to the public, which makes it difficult to know who has a stake in their work.

When these think tanks do disclose their funders, the U.S. government and foreign governments appear as top-tier donors. Those relationships can create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest when the organization is issuing recommendations on foreign policy, underscoring the importance of transparency on funding sources when working to affect U.S. policies.

To determine if the rule works as intended to capture how foreign-government donations to think tanks could color the analysis of Congressional witnesses, POGO reviewed Truth in Testimony forms filed by non-governmental witnesses appearing before three House committees. POGO examined all publicly available forms filed by witnesses appearing before the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Appropriations committees, due to those committees’ focus on international issues as well as U.S. national security.

It is ultimately the responsibility of each committee to ensure that non-governmental witnesses are complying with the rule and disclosing properly. But how think tanks comply with the rule demonstrates that it falls short of truly requiring the disclosure of all potential foreign conflicts of interest.

Ambiguity in Self-Reporting Creates Unintended Loophole

The House rule requires witnesses to disclose “any Federal grants or contracts, or contracts or payments originating with a foreign government, received during the current calendar year or either of the two previous calendar years by the witness or by an entity represented by the witness and related to the subject matter of the hearing.” POGO’s review shows that some expert think-tank witnesses use a very narrow definition of “related.”

For example, in reviewing forms filed by Atlantic Council experts testifying before the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Appropriations committees, POGO found that none included any disclosure of foreign funding related to the subject of the hearing.

There is more to the story, though. In its 2017-2018 annual report, the Council, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan group of foreign policy change-makers,” lists over a dozen foreign governments or foreign-government-owned companies as major donors of $25,000 per year or more. In fact, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) donated at least one million dollars to the Council in 2017, more than any branch of the U.S. government did. A conservative estimate of all of the Atlantic Council’s foreign-government donations for 2017-2018 would be approximately $2,585,000, based on the low end of the stated ranges, but one might not know that by just looking at the organization’s Truth in Testimony forms.

In some instances, that foreign funding could be relevant to a hearing’s subject, even if the country of origin is not directly named. For instance, testimony on “Reforming the National Security Council” or “Defeating Terrorism in Syria” may not directly relate to any of the Council’s numerous foreign donors, but some who give money would have an interest in the outcome. The UAE certainly has an interest in Syria, having been involved in supporting both sides of the Syrian civil war. Further, none of the Truth in Testimony forms filed by Atlantic Council witnesses disclose any federal grants or contracts, even though the organization’s annual report lists six U.S. government offices as major donors, including every military branch.

Testimony from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) demonstrates how the rule does not fully capture instances where foreign donors could have interests in U.S. policies. CSIS describes itself as “a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to providing strategic insights and policy solutions to help decisionmakers [sic] chart a course toward a better world.” Part of that mission includes testifying before Congress: CSIS representatives testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs 21 times between 2016 and 2018.

Out of those 21 instances, 14 of the experts reported no funding from foreign governments related to the topic of the hearing. In six instances, witnesses reported relevant funding (one witness form was missing). The disclosure forms vary in the details of the amounts and sources of funding, but they show that Asian countries have invested significantly in CSIS’s work. CSIS did regularly disclose details of its foreign funding, and unlike the forms filed by some other think tanks, it is possible to get a picture of CSIS’s foreign funding from these forms alone. However, the disclosures do not fully comply with the rule because they failed to break out the amounts by country, instead lumping all relevant foreign contributions together.

“We see congressional testimony as an opportunity to help members of Congress think more strategically about the global environment and full transparency is an important part of that process,” a CSIS spokesman told POGO.

In 2016, the organization reported a $43.8 million operating revenue, with 27 percent of that funding coming from “government,” but it’s one of many think tanks that only provide general information on the sources of their funding. The ranges of funding reported are unusually broad, including all donations between $5,000 and $99,999 in one range before jumping to $100,000-$499,999 and finally to $500,000 and above. A conservative estimate of all CSIS’ foreign-government donations for 2017-2018 would be approximately $1,930,000. One 2016 form states that the organization received $1,739,500 from the governments of Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam since 2014.

Many of CSIS’s top-tier government funders are Asian or Middle Eastern countries, including Japan, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Turkey—some of which might have an interest in hearings such as “Iranian Backed Militias: Destabilizing the Middle East,” at which Melissa Dalton, CSIS senior fellow and deputy director of its International Security Program, testified in 2017. Furthermore, several CSIS witnesses participating in other hearings related to Asian countries or issues, like “U.S.-India Relations” or North Korean diplomacy, checked “no” to having received donations from foreign governments related to the subject of the hearing. Though not required to be disclosed under the current House rule, these funders may have an interest in developing certain narratives about those regions.

Some of the hearings CSIS employees testified at were about broad topics like “opportunities in defense reform” or space warfare, which could touch on many different foreign interests but would likely not require disclosure under the House rule.

Other examples introduce further complications. For example, Andrew Shearer, then senior advisor on  Asia-Pacific security at CSIS, testified at a 2017 hearing about “The Evolution of Hybrid Warfare and Key Challenges.” His testimony details the Chinese hybrid warfare strategy and China’s role in the Asia-Pacific region. And William A. Carter, CSIS fellow and deputy director its Technology Policy Program, testified in 2018 on “China’s Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies.” Yet there was no Truth in Testimony form posted for either expert. The CSIS website states that China donates between $5,000 and $99,999 to the organization.

But even if the forms were posted, it’s unclear if the financial relationship would have needed to be disclosed. CSIS told POGO it wasn’t a typical grant or donation. “We do not take Chinese government or Chinese corporate money to do policy research at CSIS. We had one visiting fellow from a Chinese government-associated institution with our China program in 2017, which is why there is a listing that references China on our website,” a CSIS spokesman told POGO. “There is absolutely zero ‘Chinese influence’ over CSIS testimony, events, publications, or programming.” The House Rules Committee should make clear if such an arrangement is covered under the “grants or payments” language in the rule and therefore if this kind of relationship is required to be disclosed.

Letting think tanks decide for themselves if a donor is relevant to the subject of the hearing can allow for an overly narrow interpretation of the rule—a determination that is particularly hard to make when a hearing is globally or regionally focused.

The Personal Capacity Loophole

Some think-tank experts distance themselves from their organization’s foreign donors by saying their testimony and statements represent their personal views and not those of their organization. For example, witnesses associated with the Brookings Institution testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee seven times between 2016 and 2018, and in all but one case the witnesses responded “yes” to having accepted money from foreign governments. All witnesses affiliated with the think tank handled the disclosure in the same way. Each Truth in Testimony form filed by a Brookings witness includes a link to reports that outline Brookings’ donors and a statement reading:

Consistent with the Brookings Institution’s commitment to independence (which includes not taking Institutional positions on issues), I am hereby informing the Committee that my testimony represents my personal views and does not reflect the views of Brookings, its other scholars, employees, officers, and/or trustees[…] Furthermore, out of an abundance of caution, I have affirmatively responded to questions 5 and 6 above [the questions asking if the organization received U.S. or foreign government funding], in the event that some of the donors disclosed above are responsive to these questions.

Although the rule explicitly states that disclosures must include payments received “by the witness or by an entity represented by the witness,” some House committees seem to accept the distinction between individual experts and their parent organizations as a reason not to require disclosures. A Brookings Institution spokeswoman told POGO that the organization developed its disclosure language in consultation with the House Rules Committee when the rule was first enacted.

The donor information Brookings links to in the disclosure form provides some detail but wouldn’t actually satisfy the requirements of the rule if disclosure were required. All of Brookings’ financial disclosures are broken down in ten ranges, starting with “up to $4,999” and culminating in “$2,000,000 and above.” Based on these ranges, a conservative estimate of all of Brookings’ foreign-government donations for the first half of fiscal year 2018 would be approximately $3,750,000.

While the Institution and those witnesses who are affiliated with it view their statements and testimony as separate from the views of Brookings itself, that may not be clear to Members of Congress or the public. The notion that they are separate is particularly at odds with how the witnesses are introduced and given credibility based on their position and work with the Institution. In several instances, Brookings-affiliated witnesses referenced Brookings reports or work in their testimony, and they were almost always introduced with their Brookings titles. In some cases, these hearings were directly related to Brookings’ foreign-government donors, such as Brookings Senior Fellow and Center for the U.S. and Europe Director Dr. Thomas Wright’s testimony at a hearing on Brexit the same year the organization received money from the United Kingdom.

The Brookings Institution is far from the only organization to claim this separation. For instance, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow and Strategist Naz Durakoglu presented testimony at a House Foreign Affairs hearing called “Turkey’s Democracy Under Challenge” in 2017. Durakoglu’s written testimony states that “The Atlantic Council takes no institutional positions on policy issues,” and that the information contained in her testimony represents her views alone. But the Council does have a financial relationship with Turkey. The organization’s last annual report lists Turkey’s Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency as a $25,000-$49,999–tier donor.

“The expert was not aware at [the] time of completing the form of Turkish funding, and worked in a group that was not connected with any funding from Turkey,” an Atlantic Council spokesperson told POGO.

The Rules Committee provided further clarification. A spokesman told POGO that the requirement to disclose or not actually comes down to how the invitation to testify is worded. If the invitation specifically asks for an expert to testify in an individual capacity then they do not need to disclose the funding sources of their parent organization.

Allowing witnesses to testify in an individual capacity, and therefore not disclose potential conflicts, while maintaining the prestige and credibility that comes with being affiliated with an organization like Brookings or the Atlantic Council, is a huge loophole in the rule. The intent of the rule is to provide transparency into any relationships that may color the analysis presented in Congressional testimony. Regardless of the capacity in which an individual is testifying, they should be disclosing the financial relationships of their current employer.

The Brookings Institution told POGO that its foreign donors have no say in what it publishes and it takes a number of steps to prevent potential conflicts of interest. “No single donor is responsible for more than 5% of our funding,” a Brookings spokeswoman told POGO. “Less than 10% of Brookings’s funding comes from foreign governments, and these donations go through the same review process as all other donations of similar value.”

While that may be true, the public and Members of Congress should be able to see those numbers for themselves when Brookings experts are helping to shape policy. Think-tank witnesses are undoubtedly issue-area experts who should be called upon to share their knowledge and help Congress make informed decisions. But the failure to require full disclose of relationships that could in any way influence not only the content of the remarks but the perception of independence in the witnesses themselves, should raise concerns that the rule does not go far enough.

Poor Compliance by Key Committees

In POGO’s review of how the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Appropriations committees enforced the Truth in Testimony disclosure rule, we found that in addition to the problems with the rule itself, compliance with the rule as it currently exists was spotty at best, and some committees did not fully adhere to the rule’s requirements.

POGO found:

  • The House Committee on Foreign Affairs had by far the most non-governmental witnesses. Approximately 10 percent of those witnesses did not file the required form and 77 percent filed the form but said they had not received foreign funding related to the subject of the hearing.
  • The House Committee on Armed Services had the fewest publicly available disclosures. Approximately 77 percent of Armed Services non-governmental witnesses from 2016-2018 did not have any Truth in Testimony forms publicly available at all.
  • The House Committee on Appropriations had the fewest non-governmental witnesses testify during the period. Approximately 26 percent of those witnesses did not file the form as required and only seven witnesses, or four percent, answered yes to the question asking if they received foreign funding. Of those seven witnesses who answered affirmatively, only three disclosed the actual funding details as required.

Particularly of note, the House Armed Services Committee told POGO that it had not posted all the forms it received. The rule specifically requires the forms to “be made publicly available in electronic form not later than one day after the witness appears.” The Armed Services Committee retroactively posted at least three of the disclosure forms after POGO’s request for comment, though a recent staffing change made locating all the missing forms more difficult, a Committee spokesman told POGO.

On the other hand, the Foreign Affairs Committee has strengthened the rule to require further transparency. Its form also asks witnesses to disclose if they are an active registrant under FARA, which requires those representing the interests of foreign governments or political parties to register with the Department of Justice. Although the Justice Department keeps public records of all registrants under the Act, this additional disclosure makes it easier for Committee members and the public to see if witnesses are foreign agents.

POGO only found one Foreign Affairs witness who answered “yes” to being a FARA registrant. Mehmet Yuksel, representing the People’s Democratic Party in Turkey, answered affirmativelywhen he testified on Turkey’s democracy. In 2012, Yuksel registered under FARA for his work promoting information on democracy and human rights in Turkey and Kurdistan.


Non-governmental witnesses are a vital part of the Congressional hearing process and many of those representing or affiliated with think tanks have spent their lives studying and learning the intricacies of their subject matter. Congress should value and utilize their expertise. Furthermore, just because their organizations receive foreign funding does not necessarily mean they are agents of foreign governments sent to infiltrate the U.S. policy making process. Indeed, each think tank mentioned in this piece told POGO that they maintain independence from their foreign donors and have robust conflict-of-interest policies in place.

Still, many of the biggest and most influential think tanks paint a picture of themselves as un-influenced and unbiased ivory towers of information without disclosing much, if any, information about how they maintain multimillion-dollar operating budgets. Most of the time, this lack of specificity in disclosing financial relationships with foreign governments is intentional, and should raise conflict-of-interest concerns when the mission of the organization is to affect policy decisions. There’s no requirement for think tanks or nonprofits to publicly disclose their funding sources, which is why the Truth in Testimony rule is so important. Congress is besieged by special-interest representatives, lobbyists, and “consultants” every day. Understanding who has an interest in the information presented is necessary to making informed decisions.

Require Senate witnesses to file Truth in Testimony forms. Currently the Truth in Testimony rule only applies to nongovernmental witnesses appearing before House Committees. There is no similar rule in the Senate despite the same concerns being present. The Senate should adopt the (ideally updated) House rule to ensure their witnesses disclose any potential conflicts of interests with foreign governments.

Expand the rule to cover all foreign funding, not just that directly related to the subject of the hearing. While the law covers the most direct conflict-of-interest concerns related to foreign governments, it fails to fully capture the world of foreign influence. Many foreign governments, particularly those shelling out millions to think tanks, have vested interests in U.S. posture toward their regions more broadly as well as general U.S. policies on defense, aid, and investment. Non-governmental witnesses should be required to disclose the nature of their relationship with all their foreign donors to prevent even the appearance of a conflict.

Institute a penalty for those who do not comply with the rule. Currently there is not a strong enforcement mechanism to ensure think-tank experts and other non-governmental witnesses are complying with the rule. If a Committee discovers a witness has violated the rule, the expert should be barred from testifying again before Congress.

Eliminate the personal-capacity loophole. Each House committee should enforce the rule to require all non-governmental witnesses to disclose their employer’s financial ties regardless of the capacity in which they are testifying. The purpose of this rule is to ensure transparency in the information Congress is receiving. There should be no loophole around this disclosure.”


Signed Into Law: A $200 Billion 2019 Veterans Administration Budget – The Largest Ever


VA Funding


“The Department of Veterans Affairs fiscal 2019 budget [signed] into law on Friday, gives the department a funding boost of more than 6 percent.

Pushes  the agency’s total spending over $200 billion for the first time.”

“The president finalized the bill at a ceremony held in the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center, surrounded by federal officials and local veterans. He praised the massive spending measure as another promise kept by his administration.

“With this funding bill we have increased the VA’s budget to the largest ever,” he said. “We are delivering the resources to implement crucial VA reforms.”

The bill includes $1.1 billion for the start of a VA electronic health records overhaul and $400 million for opioid abuse prevention within the department, both efforts touted by Trump in the past.

The final deal also includes a $1.75 billion increase in money tied to the VA Mission Act, passed at the start of the summer. The legislation will rewrite the department’s community care programs, expanding veterans ability to access private health care at taxpayer expense.

That money had stalled negotiations on the budget bill for months, and Democrats said they still are not satisfied with the short-term spending plug to cover what is expected to be an even bigger financial hole next year.

“The bill the president signed today leaves a funding gap in May of 2019, expected to grow to more than $8 billion in fiscal year 2020,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement after the signing.

“We do our veterans no favors when we make promises we do not keep, and I will continue to fight in Congress to make sure they receive the care they deserve.”

The VA funding legislation also includes $10.3 billion in military construction funding for fiscal 2019 as well as the full-year budgets for the legislative branch and federal energy programs.

Trump’s signature came just a day after he blasted a similar sprawling budget package focused on the Department of Defense as a “ridiculous spending bill” because it omitted border wall funding he has demanded from Congress.

The House is expected to finalize that legislation next week. If the president chooses to veto it, most federal departments would face a partial government shutdown. VA would be exempted from those problems, however, since their fiscal 2019 funding is now in place.”


The New American Way of War


New American Way of War

A Syrian-bound Tomahawk missile is launched from the destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea on April 14. (Photo: U.S. Navy / Kallysta Castillo)


“The elastic authorizations for the use of military force that Congress passed in the wake of 9/11 have been stretched by the last three administrations from continent to continent to justify military strikes in at least eight nations.

An apathetic American public and a spineless Congress have joined in a de facto alliance that increasingly allows U.S. presidents to go to war when and where they want.”


“Threats of sustained further operations against Syria are just seen by most Americans as part of this permanent background noise of conflict,” says David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “These signals of greater action have provoked almost no interest from the citizenry, and frankly not much more from Congress.”

But it is part of the same package: the U.S. is now a nation waging war on auto-pilot, which—given the tenor of the times—means the U.S. will be engaged in conflict indefinitely, spending hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn’t have, without reflection or deliberation.

To highlight their preferred hands-off approach, senators proposed a retooled perpetual authorization for the use of military force their first day back at work following the Syrian attack. “A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate [April 16] would give the president sweeping authority to wage endless war anywhere in the world with limited congressional intervention,” The American Conservative reported. “In short, it’s a rubber stamp for the global war on terror.”

“Terror,” of course, has become the cudgel to beat the U.S. public into a cowering pile of protoplasm. Americans seem unable to put the terror threat in perspective, and then act accordingly. “If the past 17 years have taught us anything, it’s that far from being an existential menace, in most cases terrorism is a manageable threat,” argue Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute in the New York Times. “Since Sept. 11, an American’s chance of being killed in the United States by a terrorist is about one in 40 million.”

Beyond the odds is history, which hints that the Syrian strike was illegal. The Supreme Court declared in 1862 that a president “has no power to initiate or declare a war.” But that notion has slowly eroded since World War II, and all but collapsed since 9/11. “By anyone’s definition, a nation that launches war on the word of one man is not, in any real sense, a republic any more,” Garrett Epps, a constitutional legal scholar at the University of Baltimore, wrote for The Atlantic. “In the long run, allowing the president to become an autocrat with sole control of war and peace is likely to prove fatal to the republic.”





15 Years Later, Iraq Vets In Congress Worry Lawmakers Learned Little From The War



Senator Tammy Duckworth

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, arrives for a vote at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2018. On Tuesday, the 15-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Duckworth said she worries that Congress still doesn’t take its role overseeing military operations seriously enough. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)


“There is an understanding on both sides of the aisle that Congress is failing,” Duckworth said. “(Our troops) keep redeploying and redeploying and redeploying. Now they’re in Afghanistan, now they’re in Iraq, now they’re in Africa, now they’re in Syria.

“They keep showing up and we’re not doing our jobs. We’re too afraid to have this discussion, and turning it all over to the executive branch. We did it under President Obama and we’re doing it under the present administration. And that’s not acceptable.”

“Fifteen years after the start of the Iraq war, Sen. Tammy Duckworth is worried that Congress didn’t learn anything from the controversial conflict.

“We just added Niger as a combat zone for combat pay. We’re talking about troops in Syria permanently,” said Duckworth, D-Illinois, who lost both legs while serving as an Army National Guard helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004.

“That to me is a very dangerous position to be in. I don’t feel like overall Congress has learned a lesson, and I think most people would just rather keep their head down and not have a vote.”

Duckworth and fellow Iraq war veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., spoke to reporters on the anniversary of the start of that conflict Tuesday to again push for a new authorization for the use of military force for a host of current overseas military missions.

The justifications for military intervention in the Middle East, Africa and other conflict zones still rely on the war powers granted by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. For years, Duckworth and Gallego (along with other Democrats and Republicans) have argued in favor of an updated, more limited military force authorization measure, but a compromise remains elusive.

Earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said his panel will mark up a new authorization proposal on April 19.

“When we go into new countries, when we take on new groups, the Senate would have the ability to weigh in on those issues,” he said during a floor speech. “So I just would like to say to the body and those who are looking in, we are not shying away from this debate.”

But Duckworth and Gallego said lawmakers largely have avoided those difficult conversations on military roles and responsibilities, allowing the White House to make those decisions largely unchecked.

“We’re seeing a military that is expected to engage long-term on multiple fronts. We’re seeing a military that has not been funded in terms of readiness,” Duckworth said. “And we’re adding what we’re expecting them to do.

“We’re talking about Africa. We’re talking about Korea. If we want to have the military engage in a 15-year commitment on three fronts … let’s have that conversation.”

Gallego said he believes that after nearly 18 years of continuous military operations overseas, lawmakers have “a better understanding of how military adventurism can go wrong,” and the strain that puts on military families.

“But we’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds. We don’t have to take a tough vote, and the military gets to do what they want because the operate under this old authorization. Democrats are just as responsible for this as Republicans.”

Both lawmakers said they were encouraged by increased debate in the House last year pushing for a new war authorization, but said the work is still moving too slow. They’re hopeful that as more young combat veterans enter Congress (42 current lawmakers served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era) those issues will take more prominence.”




Congress is Afraid to be Responsible for Our Current Wars



“In the next few weeks Congress will debate and approve legislation to authorize and appropriate over $1 trillion in national security spending.  That debate should include authorization for our current wars.

But yet again leadership proved its cowardice when it comes to its constitutional responsibility to declare wars, and to be held accountable for those wars, by using a procedural trick to block an up-or-down vote to authorize them.

The 2001 AUMF authorized the use of force in response to the September 11 attacks, but has since been twisted to cover a number of conflicts that have little to no connection to those attacks.

Last month Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to the House Appropriations bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force—referred to as the AUMF. The amendment would have repealed the 2001 AUMF 240 days after the appropriations bill went into effect, which Lee hoped would force Congress to vote on a new AUMF to reflect our current wars.

The Congressional Research Service found that the AUMF has been used to allow deploying and directing forces, or to engage in other actions, in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, and Somalia. Lee, along with Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) and 53 other colleagues in the House, and Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) in the Senate, have spent years trying to get Congress to vote on a new AUMF to reflect our current commitments without success.

The Lee amendment was a brief moment of progress, surprisingly passing in the committee on a bipartisan vote. Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Scott Taylor (R-VA), both military veterans themselves, criticized Congress’s inaction on debating and approving a new AUMF. But that progress has been halted for now by the House Rules committee—which proudly touts itself as the “Speaker’s Committee” because it’s the Speaker’s way of controlling the House Floor—which stripped the language from the bill in the dead of night before it could get to the Floor for a vote. The Rules Committee  replaced it with language Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) had added to a different defense authorization bill; that language required a report and budgetary analysis from the President on how to defeat Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State, including an analysis of whether the current AUMF is sufficient to accomplish that strategy. While this language is an important step forward, it stops far short of Congress actually doing its job and voting—and thus being accountable—for our current wars. Cole himself supported the language offered by Lee.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told Real Clear Politics it was “a mistake” that the amendment had passed and that an appropriations bill was the wrong vehicle for debating the issue. But it appears there’s never going to be a right vehicle. The Speaker and his Republican and Democratic predecessors, through the Rules committee, have repeatedly blocked votes on this issue on defense authorization bills—a pretty natural vehicle for the debate. They have not allowed standalone legislation to be considered, either.”

Congress is truly broken if they think they can absolve themselves of responsibility for our war efforts. Large Pentagon budgets don’t show support for the troops so much as they do for defense contractors and campaign donors. Real support for our troops would be Congress giving serious consideration to where and why we send our men and women into harm’s way, and then having the guts to vote for it on the record.”