Paint by Numbers: Trends in U.S. Military Programs with Latin America & Challenges to Oversight

Paint by NumbersSince September 11th, the Bush Administration has moved forcefully to eliminate and scale back the reports required by Congress regarding military programs. Particularly alarming for public and congressional oversight of foreign policy are efforts to curtail reporting on training for foreign militaries. Behind- the-scenes attempts to remove public reports from law are increasing and threatening to reduce transparency over some of the U.S. government’s riskiest and most controversial overseas activities. 

The administration’s version of the National Defense Authorization bill for FY2004, for example, contained a lengthy section entitled “Repeal of Various Reports Required of the Department of Defense.” Over the years, Congress established these reports, which cover a wide range of topics, when members believed they needed more information to exercise oversight. The Defense Department justified repeal of these reports with terse explanations that producing a particular report was “overly burdensome” or of “minimal utility.” While Congress did not approve the wholesale elimination of reports, these administration approaches forced members of Congress to proactively and in a piecemeal manner defend the informational requirements they still wished to see in place.

The following picture of trends in U.S. military training in Latin America is based primarily upon these congressionally mandated reports, including the annual Foreign Military Training Report, one of the documents scheduled for the axe but rescued by Congress. The numbers tell an important story.