- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

The money trail

Given the monetary investment by American taxpayers in Iraq and Afghanistan — approaching a staggering half-trillion dollars in the space of four years — it’s no wonder President Bush is so determined to stay the course and complete the mission.

The question, however, remains: Who is keeping track of all this money and how is it being spent?

Desperately seeking those answers, and a whole lot more, is the Project On Government Oversight (in its infancy the Project on Military Procurement, made famous initially for exposing the Pentagon’s $7,600 coffee maker and $436 hammer.)

POGO, as it’s called today, has since expanded its mandate to all federal agencies, investigating systemic waste, fraud, favoritism and abuse — particularly at a time when there is little oversight and “our federal government is more vulnerable than ever to the influence of money in politics and powerful special interests.”

“I think [Hurricane] Katrina has started to spark an awareness … that we need to start asking more significant questions [about federal allocations and spending]. That is the patriotic thing to do,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian told Inside the Beltway yesterday.

Specifically regarding the U.S. military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has made it known that in addition to the $50 billion it will provide to American troops in the days before Christmas, the Pentagon wants a wartime request of $100 billion. And few are arguing against such requests, given the danger posed to the U.S. troops.

“You have Congress suddenly presented with a massive request from the Pentagon, and you will always have a general feeling in Congress that ‘I can’t question that too much,’” Miss Brian explains. “Most would agree that national security is the most important function of government, so you have a tendency not to ask questions on substance.”

That said, there always remain questions about “what we are paying for and who are we paying? Questioning how the government spends its money … has gone out of vogue. It amazes me.”

So POGO, we learned yesterday, is to branch out even further, actually investigating the arm of Congress that is charged with conducting oversight probes.

“The [Government Accountability Office] first of all is much smaller than it used to be; it does not have the tools it used to have,” Miss Brian says. “So we are going to study the GAO, the [inspectors general], looking at these institutions that exist today to protect taxpayers, to determine if they have the tools they need to accomplish their mission.

“What we’ve found is that … Congress is not asking the right questions. So starting this coming year, we will be beginning monthly briefings on congressional oversight for congressional staff,” she says.

Tasting democracy

Texas Rep. Ted Poe first made a name for himself as a straight-talking, no-nonsense felony court judge in Houston, most famous for his “shame punishment” of criminals.

As his biography recalls, he ordered thieves to carry signs in front of stores from which they stole; required men who abused their wives to publicly apologize on the steps of city hall; commanded sex offenders to place warning signs on their homes after serving prison time; and directed murderers to securely place a photo of their victims on the wall of their prison cells, creating a daily reminder of their crime.

Now, Mr. Poe, tell us how you feel about the media coverage of the trial of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?

“He pontificates about how he is unjustly treated,” the Republican observes. “Witnesses in the trial have described rapes, beatings and electric-shock torture carried out by his relentless regime. But the news stories focus on his outrageous court behavior instead of his years of vicious violence and mayhem.”

“The caged rodent known as Saddam Hussein can protest all he wants, but even the likes of him now receive a fair trial. Justice will soon be served, and he will be punished like the rat that he is. We call this justice system democracy.”

Good luck, lady

“If you are surfing for a ‘cheap thrill,’ have a criminal record, a fetish for tattoos, are allergic to dogs, mean to waiters, melt in the rain, have ever cheated on someone, cuss continually, are a control-freak, have roller-coaster mood swings, often see yourself as a victim, are pessimistic or cynical to the point of diverting happiness, have ever run naked through the quad, take anti-depressants, feign illnesses, want someone to define rather than enjoy you, or anything of similar nature please do not contact me. Thanks.”

Personal ad taken out by a 32-year-old Washington-area woman on the popular Internet dating site match.com.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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