Post-War Rebuilding Funds Shifted to State Dept.

Posted April 1, 2003 at 6:32pm

Congressional appropriators moved Tuesday to block Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from controlling nearly $2.5 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, marking the second time lawmakers have stepped in to harness the Pentagon as it has sought more far-reaching authority in the overall war effort.

The appropriators took the step despite a flurry of agitated 11th-hour pleas from what one insider described as “very senior administration officials” at both the Defense Department and the White House.

Although the White House will ultimately control the rebuilding money, the move by the appropriators sets the State Department as the hub of the efforts, while relegating the Pentagon to a secondary role — perhaps as one means of implementing State’s post-war plans.

“Reconstruction should be handled by the civilian side of things, absolutely,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense. “The secretary of State is much better equipped to do [reconstruction] than the Defense Department.”

The move by the appropriators came during consideration of President Bush’s request for nearly $75 billion in emergency spending for Iraq. In markups Tuesday, the Senate raised that figure to $78.8 billion, while the House bill came in at $77.9 billion.

The tug-of-war over reconstruction funds represents the second time in the course of two emergency spending debates that lawmakers have interceded to keep the Pentagon from seizing greater control over the broader war on terror. And it indicates that Congress intends to keep tight reins on Rumsfeld, who has long had a turbulent relationship with Capitol Hill.

Last year, Vice President Cheney ultimately had to step in to settle a dispute between appropriators and the White House over emergency spending on a $10 billion “war reserve.” The Bush administration wanted to steer the entire allotment into a “rainy-day fund” at the Pentagon but ultimately had to settle for a 50-50 split with the CIA.

The latest episode has emerged against a backdrop of increasing friction between the Defense and State departments over post-war reconstruction in Iraq.

Most recently, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Rumsfeld rejected a list of officials tapped by the State Department to help run the complex Middle East nation after the war. Rumsfeld had reportedly described the group of officials selected by Secretary of State Colin Powell as “too bureaucratic,” but sources told the Post the question was really one of who would have control over reconstruction.

In addition to the $2.5 billion shifted to State for reconstruction, appropriators also put the kibosh on $150 million sought by Rumsfeld for “indigenous forces.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Kevin Keck, said he was unable to comment on the decisions made by the appropriators. A White House official said only, “We’ll continue to work with both the House and the Senate as this bill continues to work its way through the process.”

Congressional Democrats, in particular, have made little secret of their preference that Powell be given as much authority as possible within the administration.

In the matter of Iraq, the Pentagon argued that its role as the spear-tip in the war effort made it a logical choice to run reconstruction. But lawmakers noted that State is well-established as the leader of international aid and development efforts, and Members have envisioned a post-war diplomatic effort that will bring a host of other nations in to share the burdens of rebuilding the country.

In a letter last week to appropriators, Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member of the International Relations Committee, respectively, said the Pentagon’s potential role in rebuilding is “quite problematic” and requested that the money be given directly to State.