Billions in Defense Department Aid Lacks Transparency

Middle East and North Africa

Our partner, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), recently released their annual report on foreign assistance to the Middle East and North Africa. The report breaks down the U.S. State Department’s annual foreign assistance budget and discusses the latest trends and recent developments. POMED’s report does an impressive job assessing the administration’s foreign assistance intentions despite much of the information for security assistance not being public.

According to the publicly available data, the administration is requesting approximately $18.7 billion in security assistance globally for FY 2016, which includes $8.3 billion in State Department-funded programs. That leaves an estimated $10.4 billion in Defense Department-funded programs where publicly available information is scant at best.

The Department of Defense releases an annual Budget Estimate that includes actual allocations from the previous year, the current year’s appropriation, and the upcoming year’s request for DoD-funded security assistance programs. However, that report only provides global totals for each program. Since FY 2012, DoD has not consistently released public country-by-country breakdowns of aid provided through all of its security assistance programs. Instead, for example, the best one can learn from the DoD report is that the administration is requesting over $344 million for Section 1206—a major “train and equip” program similar to the State Department-funded Foreign Military Financing program—but you cannot determine which countries will be receiving the assistance. Recent Congressional Research Service reports have provided important insights into this program, including country breakdowns, but these are not consistently released or required by law.

This lack of transparency poses many problems. Even the President of the United States has misrepresented the total amount of U.S. assistance to Tunisia in a recent op-ed. President Obama championed the proposed increase in U.S. assistance to Tunisia for FY 2016 to $134 million as a doubling from the previous year. However, this number only includes State-funded economic and security assistance, but not DoD assistance. Although the information has not been officially released by DoD, we project total assistance to Tunisia for FY 2016 to be at least $157 million, based on interviews with government officials and estimates based on previous years. And this does not include the aid Tunisia will likely receive from the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund and Security Governance Initiative, which are currently requested through regional accounts.

Information for DoD-funded programs does occasionally appear, like the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund report or the SIGAR reports, but these are exceptions rather than the rule. In general, anything resembling the Congressional Budget Justification, which POMED uses to conduct their annual report, does not exist, leaving billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in the shadows.

Seth Binder is the Program Associate for the Security Assistance Monitor and covers the Middle East and North Africa.