Special Operations is accused of stashing $25-million more in its budget. An audit is underway over an earlier allegation.
By PAUL DE LA GARZA
Published October 2, 2003
TAMPA - Pentagon officials are investigating allegations of a second case of the Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base hiding millions of dollars from Congress in its budget.
The latest allegation, Pentagon officials confirmed Wednesday, involves $25-million that Special Operations listed in its fiscal year 2004 budget, which took effect Wednesday.
Col. Samuel Taylor, the Special Operations spokesman, said the Pentagon inspector general confirmed that investigators were reviewing the new information.
Taylor said an expansion of the Pentagon inquiry was fully supported by Gen. Bryan D. "Doug" Brown, the Special Operations commander at MacDill.
"He's confident (Pentagon investigators) will look at this budget situation very, very thoroughly," Taylor said, "to uncover anything that has not been done properly so we can take the proper steps to correct any problems that we may have."
Pentagon investigators already had been conducting an audit, or a preliminary investigation, into how Special Operations - at the Pentagon's request - inflated budget proposals in fiscal year 2003 to "park," or hide, $20-million from Congress.
In that case, Special Operations officials divided $20-million among six projects so the money would not attract attention, according to defense officials and documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.
The plan, the documents show, called for the Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's secret commandos, to pad its proposed budget so the money could be used later by the Pentagon for some other purpose.
Elaine Kingston, the Special Operations comptroller, sketched out the plan in an e-mail to colleagues Feb. 11, 2002.
"We are doing a favor for OSD," she wrote, referring to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, "which we hope will benefit the Command if we should need additional (research and development) in FY03."
In a congressional hearing Tuesday, Pentagon officials denied they had instructed Special Operations to inflate the budget.
Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon comptroller, told House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, that it is not Pentagon policy to deceive Congress.
Zakheim characterized the term "parked" as "a pretty unfortunate term." He explained that the Pentagon placed certain funds, such as the ones Kingston cited, in priority accounts, such as Special Operations.
"I think the method is tried and true and very much aboveboard," he said. "But I can't speak to the audit for obvious reasons."
Col. Jay DeFrank, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not discuss the new allegation.
"We take every allegation seriously," he said. "We evaluate every allegation, and at this time, it would be inappropriate to say whether that is part of the audit or not."
Taylor, the Special Operations spokesman, said he had no details about the latest allegation.
He said that Brown, the Special Operations commander, and the rest of the staff only learned of it Wednesday.
Taylor said Pentagon officials relayed the latest developments to the Special Operations inspector general at MacDill.
"It was his understanding that there is a second allegation concerning approximately $25-million," Taylor said.
Since the Times first reported word of the audit and details of the Kingston e-mail Sunday, the story has attracted national interest.
At the request of Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the committee has agreed to look into the case.
Nelson has also requested that the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, look into the matter.
Despite the many investigations, Taylor characterized the mood at Special Operations Command as "positive."
"We all understand what an important mission we have," Taylor said. "We all understand that Congress is very supportive of this command and its mission, as is the Pentagon, and we also have complete confidence that the (Pentagon) audit will uncover the facts that need to be uncovered, and it will be presented in a way that people will have confidence in what we do here."
After 9/11, the command, which oversees 46,000 elite commandos, has been at the forefront of the war on terror. Special operators often work in concert with the CIA, chasing terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and drug runners.
Defense analysts and congressional aides point out that the funds in question at Special Operations are not part of the classified budget, otherwise known as the black budget. They point out that the various oversight committees in Congress shepherd and monitor the intelligence budget.
The General Accounting Office said it is not familiar with the practice outlined by Kingston in her e-mail.
In the congressional hearing Tuesday, Young also said the notion of "parked" funds at the Special Operations Command was news to him.