- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top Pentagon officials squared off with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday over the Obama administration’s plan to spend $5 billion on a new, controversial counterterrorism partnerships fund.

The debate took place during a congressional hearing on the Defense Department’s fiscal 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations budget. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld defended the partnerships fund as members of the House Armed Services Committee tried to pick it apart, seeking further details about what the money would be spent on.

The Obama administration wants to use the fund to increase the ability of partner countries to conduct counterterrorism operations and ward off terrorist threats from neighboring states, such as that posed by a violent insurgency group known as the Islamic State. To date, the Islamic State has carved a path through northern Iraq, taking over its second largest city and seizing abandoned weapons along the way. The group has also ripped through Syria, claiming some of its territory as its own.

But lawmakers appeared hesitant to embrace the $5 billion plan, with some of them noting that the Defense Department has wasted enough money already.

During the hearing, Rep. Walter B. Jones questioned the need to expand Pentagon funding. Venting his frustration with the concept, the North Carolina Republican asked when Congress was going to get to the point where it said, “enough is enough?”

“I don’t understand how the administration or the Defense Department can come over here and ask for additional money when 70 percent of it is going to waste,” he said.

Mr. Work explained that the Pentagon is in the process of developing “a fully cooked plan” for how the Defense Department will spend the $5 billion. He assured Congress that Pentagon officials would abide by the authorities set forth by federal guidelines, with the exception of using the money in Syria.

In that particular case, the Pentagon would need “one new authority,” Mr. Work said.

Mr. Work declined to describe that authority in public, noting that further discussion would need to take place in a classified setting.

Mr. Jones said handing taxpayer money over to the Pentagon to misspend on a foreign country is a preposterous notion.

“I don’t know why you need this money. It’s nothing but a slush fund anyway,” he said. “We have no business going into Syria any more than I do going to China.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Smith, seemed to side with the Obama administration’s plan for using a portion of the fund to train and arm Syrian rebels.

“I am firmly in the camp of supporting this effort,” he said. “No matter what happens in Syria whether Assad wins, or the rebels win, or it stays as a violent stalemate, we will need friends there.”

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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