Politics GAO: Pentagon didn't fully evaluate costs, readiness effects of deploying troops to border
Why Trump’s border wall failed
In the United States, private property owners have a great deal of power to block or delay major public works. But even before Biden’s presidency, the wall didn’t get very far. Despite President Donald Trump’s promises, the administration built barely more than a dozen miles of new primary barrier and replaced or put up secondary barriers on less than 400 miles.
The Pentagon did not fully evaluate potential costs and effects on readiness before deploying troops to the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration, a watchdog report said Tuesday.
In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not provided its full cost estimates to Congress and internally has not tracked some costs associated with the border mission, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The watchdog report also stated Pentagon data places the cost of the deployment from 2018 to 2020 at least at $841 million.
NATO hasn't reached decision on whether to leave Afghanistan as deadline looms
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has not yet decided if the 10,000 troops it has in Afghanistan will leave the country by May. Last February the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and see the departure of all foreign forces by May 2021. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
"By providing more timely and complete information to Congress, DOD would enhance Congress's ability to conduct oversight and make funding decisions for DOD and" the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),.
The Trump administration deployed thousands of troops to the southern border, at its height reaching more than 2,500 National Guardsmen and more than 5,800 active-duty troops, part of what former President Trump believed would strengthen national security and prevent illegal immigration.
While the National Guard has been deployed to the border in the past, the deployment of active-duty troops broke norms and only happened after Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 to acquire funding to build a border wall.
Immigration: Biden administration is relying on a Trump-era policy to turn away migrants at border
The Biden administration has moved swiftly to distance itself from Trump-era immigration policies, but at the US-Mexico border, a pandemic-related order put in place by former President Donald Trump remains in effect, allowing officials to continue to turn away thousands of migrants. © Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump speaks after touring a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas on January 12, 2021.
Lawmakers at the time expressed concerns the deployments would drain resources from the budget and negatively affect troop readiness.
President Biden, but the Pentagon has said it has no plans right now to end the deployment of the 3,600 troops, mostly National Guardsmen, before the approved end date in September.
In its report Tuesday, the GAO found the DOD fully examined the legality, potential for lethal force, safety risks to troops and whether supporting the requests was in the interest of the department when evaluating requests for assistance from the DHS.
But the GAO also found the Pentagon "developed rough cost estimates that were not reliable" and "did not fully evaluate the effect on military readiness of providing support."
"Without reliable cost estimates and a timely readiness analysis, DOD is limited in its ability to evaluate the effect of supporting DHS on its budget and readiness rebuilding efforts," the report said.
Pentagon chief underscores safety of COVID-19 vaccine amid some service members' refusal
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday released a video stressing the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine following last week's revelation that nearly a third of service members who have been offered the shot have refused to take it.In the video, addressed to the U.S. military workforce, Austin encourages service members and personnel to seek out information on the vaccine from government websites including those of the CDC and the Defense Department. "When you do, you'll see that these vaccines have undergone intensive safety monitoring. You'll also see that they are safe and they are effective.
GAO specifically looked at the Pentagon's cost estimate for deploying troops to the border in fiscal 2019 and found it only "minimally" met the criteria for a reliable projection.
The GAO also found Pentagon reports to Congress on costs of the deployment did not match internal data. For example, reports to Congress indicated the Pentagon obligated about $234 million for the mission in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, but GAO's review of internal Pentagon data found the department obligated about $490 million during that period.
Defense officials told the GAO the discrepancy was due to the fact that it hadn't completed one of the reports for fiscal 2019, which was due to Congress in March 2020 but hadn't been sent as of December, according to the report.
The Pentagon also did not track some costs associated with the border mission, including costs to installations supporting the mission, to oversee wall construction and to provide benefits to National Guard members, the report said.
On readiness, the GAO found that some potential unit-level effects were not reported to the Defense secretary before approving the requests for assistance.
Pentagon: COVID-19 derailed annual survey of sexual assaults at academies
The Pentagon on Thursday said the coronavirus pandemic prevented officials from gathering data for an annual report on unwanted sexual contact at the military academies.Defense officials had planned to administer in-person surveys at the schools in early 2020, but the spread of the COVID-19 forced superintendents to send cadets and midshipmen home in mid-March, according to the Pentagon's Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. The Pentagon's next in-person survey at the three elite academies isn't expected again until next year.
For example, a battalion of UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters from an active duty Army Combat Aviation Brigade missed a large-scale training opportunity at the National Training Center because of the deployment, and pilots also had trouble fulfilling individual training requirements such as night flying, military personnel told the GAO. But those issues were not identified in the collection of information used to decide whether to approve the request, according to the report.
The lack of information on readiness may have led to the Pentagon providing DHS with less support than it approved in a least one case, GAO said, adding that defense officials "confirmed that the department made adjustments because it did not have sufficient ready units to provide the level of support approved" for 2020.
The report released Tuesday is the public version of a classified report initially issued earlier this month and excludes information about force protection and threats to troops the Pentagon deemed "sensitive," according to the GAO.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment on the GAO report. But in a response dated in December included in the report, the department disagreed with all but one of the GAO's six recommendations.
The cost estimates the Pentagon used to approve the requests were meant to be "a rough order of magnitude cost estimate that informs senior-leader decision making," the department said in its response. The department is also "confident that the process used to assess readiness prior to approving support is appropriate," it added.
The Pentagon also disagreed its comptroller needs to clarify guidance to ensure all associated costs are tracked, but agreed it should "provide reports to cognizant congressional committees on time," blaming the delay of sending a report to Congress on a belated congressional extension of the deadline and the COVID-19 pandemic.
IRS paid $3B in interest to taxpayers for late refunds in 2020: GAO report .
IRS officials paid a record amount of interest on tax refunds last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a decision to allow taxpayers extra time to file their tax returns, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).A report from the agency released this week found that the IRS spent more than $3 billion on tax refund interest last year, a figure that dwarfed 2019's total and was attributed in the report to the number of paper returns the IRS received while many of its employees were working remotely, which led to delays. The GAO in its report faulted the IRS for not doing more to reduce the number of paper returns it receives annually.