The push for greater oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine is making progress. Wednesday night, a bipartisan majority of senators—including nearly every Republican—voted to create a lead inspector general for Ukraine assistance. In June, the House of Representatives agreed to a similar measure, establishing a special inspector general for Ukraine assistance as part of its annual defense policy bill.
Fifty-one senators voted for the amendment, including every Republican except Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Although the amendment needed 60 votes to pass, a bipartisan majority of senators are now on the record clearly supporting the creation of a single office to lead oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Nobody knows what will be in the final defense bill after the House and Senate resolve differences between their competing versions. But with clear majorities in support in both chambers, congressional Republicans are in a strong position to make sure the final bill empowers one office to lead oversight. Doing so will not only improve oversight, it will also help provide Americans with the accountability and transparency they deserve.
All of this is a long time coming. The United States has appropriated more than $113 billion in aid for Ukraine over the last year. For just as long, members of Congress have urged greater oversight of that aid. As The Heritage Foundation has argued, providing such oversight is important not just for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse, but also for providing transparency for Americans who want to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
Members’ calls for increased oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine have merit. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko put it bluntly: “We’re spending a heck of a lot of money in [Ukraine], and any time you spend that much money in any country, you’re bound to get wastage.”
The risk of waste, fraud, and abuse is particularly concerning given Ukraine’s longstanding issues with government corruption and difficulties monitoring aid in a conflict zone where the United States has a limited physical presence.
Already, there are signs that trouble may be afoot. The Department of Defense’s inspector general reportedly found last year that criminals, volunteer fighters, and arms traffickers had stolen weapons intended for Ukrainian forces. The inspector general also recently found that U.S. service members lacked an accounting of U.S. equipment transiting Poland to Ukraine. And the DOD itself has revealed accounting errors that raise questions about its valuation of equipment going to Ukraine and amounts required to restock U.S. inventories.
After a year of debate, Congress is now poised to strengthen oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine. Last month, the House of Representatives agreed to establish the special inspector general as part of its fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.
Last night, the Senate voted on a similar measure proposed by Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; James Risch, R-Idaho; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and John Kennedy, R-La., to establish a lead inspector general.
House and Senate leadership will ultimately decide whether the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act establishes an inspector general or, barring that, includes language from the Senate amendment. Fortunately, Republicans are in a strong position to ensure the bill does one or the other.
The White House is working hard to try to strip out any language enhancing oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine. But the Republican conference in both chambers is united in support of these provisions. Democrats in both chambers also supported them. As a result, if Republican leaders make securing this language a priority for negotiations when the House and Senate bills are reconciled to one another, then there is good reason to believe they can succeed.
Americans have spent decades watching billions, if not trillions, of their tax dollars flow overseas, often with little to show for it, especially during the wars in the Middle East. They quite reasonably want to know we are not repeating those same mistakes in Ukraine. As Wicker acknowledged Wednesday, more work needs to be done to give them that confidence.
Empowering a single office to lead oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine will be a step in the right direction. The House and Senate have made their positions clear. Now, it is up to leadership in both chambers to ensure those positions are reflected in the final version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.