Congress turns attention to oversight of Ukraine aid
Growing number of lawmakers raise questions about US commitment to Kyiv
In the year since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Congress has approved more than $113 billion in assistance for Kyiv, and now faces the daunting task of making sure the aid is used as intended.
In Congress, support for supplying that aid has largely been broad and bipartisan. But a small yet growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are questioning how that aid is being overseen, just how long the U.S. can provide such massive amounts of aid and, on the most extreme end of the spectrum, whether that aid should continue.
Though the divide is perhaps most pronounced in the Republican-controlled House, concerns span both parties and chambers.
This week, the House and Senate Armed Services committees and the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will hold the first open hearings on Ukraine aid oversight since the war’s start. Congress put a number of oversight provisions into the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, but many of them have been conducted outside of public view.
Though congressional leaders generally support continued aid to Ukraine, some have been careful in their assessments of ongoing oversight efforts.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said “we can always do more” when it comes to tracking the aid being sent overseas. But so far, he added, the Pentagon has been regularly reporting on the progress of Ukraine aid to Congress.
Ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the oversight provisions already in place are “probably adequate.”
But, he said, “We are very mindful that the American people want their generous contributions to be well spent. And I do think that’s in the national interest.”
Other lawmakers have struck a more confident tone in recent weeks.
“I am satisfied with the robust oversight processes that we have in place in regard to the aid the United States is providing to Ukraine. The Defense Department continues to be open and transparent,” said Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
And newly returned from a trip to Kyiv, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas; House Armed Services Chairman Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala.; and House Intelligence Chairman Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, said in a press release last week that House Republicans have continued to conduct “robust oversight of U.S. assistance — protecting the American taxpayer while ensuring these weapons continue to make an impact on the battlefield.”
The same group encouraged the Biden administration to send even more weapons to Ukraine, though they did not name specific platforms. Ukrainian officials have asked the U.S. for fighter jets and longer-range missiles in recent weeks.
Security aid fatigue
To date, military aid to Ukraine — including equipment transferred from U.S. stocks, new equipment procured and training — makes up about $50 billion of the $113 billion in total assistance, according to an analysis by Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
But skeptics in Congress have balked at the growing price tag, and some have vowed to oppose further spending.
This month, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced a resolution to express the sense of the House that the U.S. should end its military and financial aid to Ukraine, and urge all combatants to reach a peace agreement.
The so-called “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution received little attention at the time — such resolutions are symbolic and carry no legislative weight, and this particular provision is unlikely to be adopted — but it signaled growing opposition to U.S. support for Kyiv.
As of Monday, 11 lawmakers co-signed Gaetz’ resolution, twice as many as those who attended a November news conference opposing Ukraine aid headlined by Gaetz and Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“I think the situation over there is getting more concerning. Now the Biden administration is sending tanks over there,” Greene said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s like where does it stop?”
Greene’s concerns stem, at least in part, from what she characterizes as a lack of oversight of the weapons and financial aid flowing to Kyiv, she said.
On Friday, Greene introduced, along with eight co-sponsors, a resolution that would direct President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to provide the House with copies of all documents, including notes from meeting and telephone records, that relate to the funds appropriated by Congress that have been sent to Ukraine since Biden took office.
Existing reporting requirements
Greene’s resolution is unlikely to be adopted. But if it were, it would join an already long list of requirements for tracking Ukraine aid that span the Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Dozens of oversight provisions were enacted through the four appropriations measures passed by Congress last year, as well as in the fiscal 2023 defense policy bill.
The requirements are varied, and span multiple offices and jurisdictions across the Pentagon, State Department and the Government Accountability Office.
Within the Pentagon, the DOD inspector general is conducting eight assessments, including evaluating the department's replenishment of weapons supplied to Ukraine and the security controls surrounding those weapons.
And the IG has announced plans for seven more assessments this year that include examining end-use monitoring in Ukraine and the Pentagon’s use of appropriated dollars.
Other oversight requirements already on the books (which total eight pages of single-spaced text when taken together) involve updates to Congress.
Some require regular briefings from the Pentagon and State Department to lawmakers and their staff, while others require reports from the secretaries of Defense and State to the Armed Services, Appropriations and foreign affairs committees in both chambers detailing efforts to track U.S. defense equipment sent to Ukraine since the war’s start.
And congressional offices in particular have access to vast quantities of detailed information on the status of the aid flowing to Kyiv.
According to one staffer with direct knowledge of that access, offices that deal with the Pentagon are able to view regularly updated spreadsheets that track the exact number of weapons, munitions and other technologies being sent to Ukraine.
All of that data, though granular, is available to any interested lawmaker, and the military legislative assistants who work for them.
“I interact with elements of the Defense Department daily on Ukraine issues,” said the staffer, who requested anonymity to discuss the internal workings of their office.
The fog of war
Military aid to Ukraine is delivered through a base in eastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. From there, it is turned over to the Ukrainians and transported by truck or rail into Ukraine.
Officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv track the weapons and technology, including everything from millions of rounds of ammunition to precision-guided artillery shells and night-vision goggles, that are brought into the country.
But once equipment is distributed to troops on the front lines, the chaotic and fast-paced nature of the war makes further tracking difficult, if not impossible.
Still, some lawmakers have said they would like to see more end-use monitoring in Ukraine.
“What’s in law is a good start but we’ll have to develop some other tracking mechanisms moving forward. And there's a lot of ideas out there and I'm willing to sort through all of those and work with whatever proposals we can come up with. But I think it's just important that we follow up for our American taxpayers but be supportive of Ukraine,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., who serves on the House Armed Services panel and visited Ukraine in December, said the Ukrainians and officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
Jacobs added, however, that lawmakers may need to have a larger conversation about how the U.S. conducts end-use monitoring in general.
But as the war heads into its second year, U.S. aid — and the need for congressional oversight — will continue. The Biden administration said recently it believes it has enough congressionally appropriated funds to continue aid through Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.