A coalition of 40 organizations from across the political spectrum is calling for a congressional investigation into how the Pentagon used $1 billion in coronavirus relief funds.
In a letter to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the groups also urged lawmakers to consider passing a new bill to suspend the Department of Defense’s (DOD) authority to use the funding.
“We believe the Pentagon’s decision-making with these funds, as recently reported, violates congressional intent at minimum, and represents a significant breach of trust with the taxpayers who fund the military’s budget and its emergency spending,” the organizations wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill ahead of its public release.
The letter was organized by progressive group Win Without War, the right-leaning National Taxpayers Union and the Project on Government Oversight.
“We believe that the select subcommittee should investigate when, how, and why the Pentagon decided that it could use these specific CARES Act funds in contravention of Congressional intent,” the letter said. “Any findings should be shared with the public to the maximum extent practicable. We would also ask that the select subcommittee consider recommending a rescission of DoD’s budget authority for this $1 billion fund in order to ensure Congress’s constitutional spending authority is not being violated.”
A subcommittee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, which comes after a Washington Post report Tuesday detailed how the Pentagon has used most of a $1 billion fund allocated by the CARES Act on defense contractors rather than medical supplies.
The DOD awarded contracts for jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms, among other military equipment, which critics argue is in contravention of the CARES Act stipulation that the funds be used to “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.”
The Pentagon has defended itself, arguing the money was never intended to be restricted to medical supplies, that it kept Congress fully informed of its plans and that helping the defense industrial bases through the pandemic is an appropriate response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“As indicated by recent reporting, there appears to be a misunderstanding by some about what the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES” Act) did and did not do with respect to the Department of Defense,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a seven-paragraph statement Wednesday.
“The CARES Act did not limit — nor did it intend to limit in its language — the use of Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III to only medical resources,” he added. “As part of the efforts to mitigate economic damage, the act allowed monies to be spent to support individuals and industries that had been impacted by COVID. This is exactly what DOD has done.”
While the Post report provided new details on the exact contracts the Pentagon has awarded, the department notified Congress in late May it planned to use $688 million of the funding to shore up the defense industrial base. Several news outlets, including the