Written by Nolan Alisago (News Writer)
When Congress gave a billion dollars to the Department of Defense to help with COVID-19 aid, they decided to use over half of those funds to prop up the defense industry. Now a joint investigation by three House subcommittees is investigating the possible mishandling of funds. Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, the behavior of the defense department is unlikely to change.
In March, before the deaths of over 200,000 American’s, the Pentagon was given a billion dollars through the CARES act to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” Their response was to provide $688,000,000 to defense contractors to build jet engines, body armor, and dress uniforms. When Congress gave the funds to the D.O.D, they intended it to go towards swabs, masks, and preparations for the distribution of an eventual vaccine. The funds were given as a small piece of the three trillion dollar emergency spending plan in the Cares act. The billion-dollar fund was distributed under the Trump administration’s invocation of Title III of the Defense Production Act, which allowed for the chief executive to force U.S. companies to manufacture products to support the wellbeing of the nation. Lawmakers in the House argue that the way the D.O.D allocated funds towards the defense industry was contrary to the desires of Congress. The Department of Defense claimed that the interrelation of the nation’s security and the defense industries’ health justifies the funneling of funds towards defense contractors they deemed critical. Critics were quick to point out the Pentagon already is being given millions (64 million in 2020) annually to do this.
Of the contracts awarded, about a third went to small defense contractors for under 5 million, while large companies like Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal were given much larger contracts totaling 172 million dollars between the two. Of the thirty companies, a third had already received relief from the Paycheck Protection Program. Criticism remains of the large companies receiving contracts while staying financially healthy and not having to stop layoffs, paying stock dividends to investors, or limit executive bonuses. Others objected to why the defense industry got a dedicated bailout slush fund, as many other sectors of the economy didn’t. Despite having planned on spending the bulk of billion dollars on medical equipment, the D.O.D shifted gears to meet the desires of defense contractors. This information raised many eyebrows and resulted in 40 different large groups petitioning the House to investigate. This caused the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis, Committee on Financial Services, Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on National Security to all sign a letter demanding the Department of defense hand over their spending history documents. The committees contest that the funds were meant for P.P.E (Personal Protective Equipment), and the committees hope to find out exactly how funds were used and if they were mishandled. The result will likely be the same regardless of their determination: blowback and punishment for the D.O.D will be non-existent.
Simply, the power of Congressional inquiry is limited to legislation. They do not have the ability to hold the Department of Defense accountable, nor the will to intervene with so much else going on. Allocation of funds contrary to congresses’ intent is not a criminal offense persuadable by the Department of Justice, and the point of the investigation is not to press charges but to let the American people know what happened. The information uncovered is doomed to have little consequence. The money is spent, and they are near certain to get even more. Shortages still exist in P.P.E, and thousands of small businesses remain permanently closed. Americans continue to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering that would certainly have been lessened had the Pentagon focused on closing shortages in N95 masks instead. The military budget has ballooned and is only going to continue to grow as the Pentagon asks for and will likely receive an additional 11 billion dollars. Increased spending after failing to properly allocate funds is a far reach from accountability. When asked about accountability in the federal government, A.P. government and economics teacher Cindy Martinez said that if Congress found they had misused the funds they were given to help respond to the coronavirus, “People could be held responsible. Careers ruined. Possible criminal charges.” Though, considering the fleet of pentagon lawyers defending the funding allocations, the high level of the officials involved, and the shared relationship between the President, the Pentagon, and the D.O.J (who would be the prosecutors), this sentiment comes off as wishful thinking. This is echoed by the relative skepticism of San Lorenzo Valley High School A.P. U.S. history teacher Julie Salido said, “They [Officials in the Pentagon] can do what they want till someone seriously calls them on it. But with lack of Congressional oversight in the Senate and a friendly relationship between the military and the President, it is unlikely that even if there was criminal misconduct that anything would happen.”