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$20-million fund will get another look

Rep. Young says the Pentagon's first investigation into the money at MacDill was full of errors.

By PAUL DE LA GARZA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 5, 2005

TAMPA - Under pressure from Florida congressional leaders, Pentagon officials said Tuesday they will reopen an investigation into whether $20-million was secretly "parked" at MacDill Air Force Base.

"They're just reviewing the whole investigation," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.

The Pentagon's own internal investigators recently completed a two-year inquiry into charges that the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill hid $20-million from Congress at the request of the Pentagon comptroller.

The investigation was completed last month. Without any public explanation, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa did not file charges.

But Young, a powerful voice in Congress, said the Pentagon investigation was full of errors.

"I think those errors, plus another issue, have caused them to recognize that this was not a very thorough report," said Young, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls funding to the Pentagon.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also raised questions last week about the Pentagon's practice of hiding money from Congress in budget requests.

Once the policy of parking funds at the Pentagon was "exposed," Young suggested, Pentagon investigators had no choice but to review the case.

"In order to maintain credibility, any inspector general report has got to be as accurate and thorough as it can be," Young said. "Otherwise, their credibility would suffer."

Young also credited Nelson.

Last week, Nelson accused the Pentagon and SOCom of creating a "slush fund from which to draw funds for purposes and in amounts that they intended to hide from the Congress and the people."

He asked the Armed Services Committee to conduct its own investigation and hold hearings.

The committee has not responded, but a spokesman said Nelson's request was under review.

Nelson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General, which conducted the investigation, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Both Young and Nelson have credited stories by the St. Petersburg Times with helping to raise questions about the Pentagon practice of "parking," or hiding, money from Congress.

Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group in Washington that has followed the case from the beginning, said he feared the Pentagon decision to reopen the case may be a way of delaying release of the findings to the public.

On Monday, the inspector general declined a Freedom of Information request by the Times to release the findings of the investigation, saying they contained information about "internal personnel rules and practices of an agency."

Young cited some specific disappointments with the Pentagon report.

For example, he noted, the report said a Young staff member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee - and his counterpart in the Senate - declined to be interviewed by investigators.

Young, however, said both aides spoke with investigators for several hours.

Young cited another mistake by investigators, but said he could not discuss it because the report was marked "law enforcement sensitive."

The original investigation involved charges that SOCom, which oversees the nation's secret commando units, hid $20-million from Congress by inflating its 2003 budget at the request of the Pentagon.

Of the $20-million, Special Operations officials divided it among six projects so the money would not attract attention. They also instructed their own budget analysts not to mention it during briefings with congressional aides.

A second case involving $25-million in hidden funds at SOCom in 2004 was not mentioned in the Pentagon report.

Paul de la Garza can be reached at delagarza@sptimes.com or 813-226-3432.

[Last modified October 5, 2005, 04:54:23]


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