Same source, different aid numbers

Latin America and the Caribbean

Visitors to the site occasionally ask us why the aid numbers presented here - sometimes including old numbers from past years - change from time to time. The changes are usually not drastic, a few million dollars here or there, but can be frustrating for people seeking to cite definitive numbers, for instance for publications. The answer is simple, though frustrating. The "Just the Facts" website cites only official written sources, but the sources themselves are often inconsistent. This is especially true for the Defense Department's reporting of its own aid programs. Whether because of poor record-keeping or because of confusion about which expenditures constitute "aid" instead of "operational costs," two documents from the same government department can report different amounts of assistance to the same country, in the same program, in the same year. When this happens, we cite the more recent of the two documents, which we consider to have superseded the first one. However, if the older document describes activities that are not mentioned in the newer document, we include those activities in our new aid estimates as well. The most recent example is in a report we obtained last week: the Defense Department's first-ever country-by-country report on all of its overseas military assistance. The report (PDF) was required by Section 1209 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. It is a major step forward for transparency over several military aid programs for which it was very difficult to obtain country-by-country data before. One of those hard-to-track Defense Department programs is the Pentagon's authority to provide counter-drug assistance, known by the user-unfriendly name "Section 1004" after the provision in the 1991 Defense Authorization law that first created it. "Section 1004" is the second-largest source of military and police aid funding for Latin America and the Caribbean, but it has been consistently difficult for us to obtain an annual accounting of aid through this program. This year, however, is different. We have information about "Section 1004" aid in 2007 from two different Defense Department sources: (1) an April 2008 response to a Freedom of Information Act request from a U.S. non-governemntal organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (this document is not posted to our website); and (2) The "Section 1209" report (PDF), which was required by Congress in July 2008, dated August 2008, and obtained by us in December 2008. The two documents' accounting of "Section 1004" aid is very similar. Aid categories are almost identical, though many are cryptic and require a Google search to decipher. (Example: "CNIES" = "Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System.") But the two sources' aid numbers rarely match, and a few categories appear in one but not the other. Consider this comparison of both sources' accounting of "Section 1004" aid to Colombia in 2007, which is typical:

4/08 FOIA Response
8/08 Section 1209 Report
Bilateral Maritime Collection/Reporting $35,000   -100%
CN Command Management System $3,267,000 $3,267,000 0%
CN Intelligence Programs $11,204,000 $11,907,000 +6%
CNIES $599,000 $599,000 0%
CNT Technology $1,000,000 $450,000 -55%
Colombia Airborne Surveillance $10,623,000 $10,623,000 0%
Detection and Monitoring Domain Awareness $3,300,000 $2,500,000 -24%
Host Nation Rider   $3,150,000
Information Operations   $2,987,000
Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South $399,000 $466,000 +17%
ONI Maritime Intelligence Support $35,000   -100%
SOF CN Support $9,924,000 $10,493,000 +6%
SOUTHAF Support - Southcom $601,000 $669,000 +11%
SouthCom CN Joint Planning Action Teams $2,240,000 $1,815,000 -19%
SouthCom CN Operational Support $46,178,000 $42,878,000 -7%
SouthCom Command Support $177,000 $215,000 +21%
SouthCom Section 1033 Support $12,437,000 $13,976,000 +12%
Tactical Analysis Teams $1,169,000 $1,690,000 +45%
USARSO Support - SouthCom $2,140,000 $2,287,000 +7%
USMC CN Training Support $2,004,000   -100%
Total $107,332,000 $109,972,000 +2%

In the end, the August source yields a total for Colombia that is $2.6 million higher (2 percent) than the April source. If we include aid categories that appear in April but not August in our final estimate, as we do on our page for Section 1004 aid to Colombia in 2007, we get a total of $112,046,000, or $4.7 million higher (4 percent). Similar discrepancies appear in both reports' estimates of aid to the majority of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a common issue. Because it happens frequently, we recommend checking "Just the Facts" when citing aid numbers to ensure that you are using the latest official estimates. And we recommend that the Department of Defense and the congressional oversight committees place a higher priority on reporting. As things stand now, reports give the distinct impression that the federal government does not know quite how much it is spending on overseas military and police aid.