Overseeing Ukraine aid should not mean more government agencies

Given the unprecedented amount of humanitarian, military, and economic assistance the United States is providing Ukraine, strong oversight of this money will be critical. However, creating a “Special Inspector General for Ukraine” is not necessary when the existing Offices of Inspectors General at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of State (State) and the Department of Defense (DOD) are already set up to provide effective oversight.

As a first step, Congress should swiftly confirm the USAID nominee for IG, Ms. Nicole Angarella, who has been sitting before the Senate for more than 500 days — and the Biden administration should put forward a name quickly to fill the open IG job at the State Department.

On the heels of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States and speech to Congress, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included $45 billion of additional aid to Ukraine. The aid package comes at a time when incessant Russian bombing is taking out civilian infrastructure and significantly damaging Ukraine’s energy grid, leaving Ukrainians in the dark and cold in the depths of winter. At the same time, Ukrainian forces are holding the front lines and gaining back territory. U.S. aid has been — and will continue to be — an integral piece for Ukraine to defeat Russia and defend democratic values.

Calls for a new inspector general for Ukraine — similar to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) or the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR) — are unnecessary, given the existing oversight from the Inspectors General at State, DOD, and USAID.

Special Inspectors General (SIGs) were established for the “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The primary expectation was the SIGs would coordinate oversight with the statutory Inspectors General from DOD, State, and USAID. They also had the responsibility for publishing quarterly and annual reports documenting the effectiveness of the U.S. government activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and summarizing the findings and recommendations of the audits and investigations carried out by the SIGs and the Statutory IGs.

Some waste, fraud and abuse were found over a multi-year time frame. Unfortunately, the SIGs did not operate as well as intended.

A major shortcoming was their lack of understanding of the programs and activities of the departments and agencies over which they had oversight. In addition, rather than coordinate oversight activities, they tended to compete with the statutory IGs on audits and investigations, leading to confusion and wasted resources.

Recognizing the inherent flaws in the SIG concept, Congress passed Public Law 112-239, in 2013 creating a “Lead Inspector General” (Lead IG) for overseas contingency operations, where there was overlap among the DOD, State, and USAID IGs. This public law established the legal framework for the statutory IGs to operate as a single entity when a future “OCO” was formally declared. The Lead Inspector General is decided among the IGs of the three agencies. 

While the U.S. government’s support for Ukraine has not been formally designated an OCO, the IGs from Defense, State, and USAID are using that framework to conduct their oversight and will issue joint reports on their findings and recommendations. The legislation is working as it was intended to, and thus there is no valid reason to establish a new SIG or to give the existing SIG for Afghanistan authority to conduct audits or investigations of U.S. assistance in Ukraine and the border regions.

The IGs at State, DOD, and USAID have made providing oversight of aid to Ukraine a top priority, understanding the need to provide clear accountability and transparency of such strategically important expenditures.

The administration has also requested — and Congress has appropriated — additional funding for all three offices to conduct increased oversight activities for Ukraine assistance. In fact, the three agencies announced a partnership to engage in coordinated oversight, giving full transparency to the process. Efforts to provide effective oversight are already underway. For example, the State Department OIG released an information brief in December 2022 to provide lessons learned from past high-stakes experiences that can be applied to oversight in Ukraine.

In addition to the three IGs, specific oversight requirements were also written into the legislation providing aid to Ukraine. For example, the second aid package to Ukraine included a requirement that all funds provided to Ukraine be subject to a memorandum of understanding and that the State Department and USAID provide a report on the use of funds every 90 days. This has yet to be implemented by the Biden administration, but it is something that they should consider — to provide further accountability to Congress and ultimately the American taxpayer.

The United States has already provided unprecedented levels of aid to Ukraine in 2022, with the new package bringing the total up to $113 billion. This assistance, on an inflation adjusted basis, is more than the United States provided during the peak of the Marshall Plan.

Calls for oversight of this significant amount of money are understandable, however, they must be carried out in an effective way.If Ukraine wins the war, democracies must help keep the peaceRise of the tax machines: IRS algorithms are coming for you

Fortunately, the existing Inspectors General system is equipped to handle the Ukraine challenge, and there is not a need to create a new government entity to handle it. Congress should take some concrete steps now and confirm the nominee for the Inspector General for USAID, and the Biden administration should put forward a strong candidate for the IG role for the State Department.

Originally published on thehill.com on January 15, 2023.

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