Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) first appeared in USA Today on June 2, 2023.

The Ukrainian military is gearing up for a spring offensive fueled by two recent allocations from President Joe Biden totaling $675 million. We hope this funding will help Ukraine continue to fend off Russia’s attacks, but, as it stands, Americans lack a proper accounting of how our aid has worked thus far.

Since the war began more than a year ago, the United States has given Ukraine more than $113 billion in aid. We know it is a lot of money. Some say we are investing too much in Ukraine. Others say it is not enough. But we believe it is worth it.

Our aid to Ukraine isn’t charity. It’s in our national security interest.

As we determine how to best support Ukrainian sovereignty against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war, it is important that Americans can understand and track how the resources are used.

Taxpayers in Arizona and Louisiana help fund this investment. And our constituents deserve to know that each dollar sent to Ukraine is spent with the singular aim of deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin and maintaining peace for the United States and our allies.

Keeping tabs on the money is no easy task. Billions of dollars are flowing into Ukraine amid a violent war. It’s not just following the money; it’s following the guns, ammunition and tools we’ve given to Ukraine, as well.

Today, we have a patchwork of watchdogs each following a different trail of money and no one entity to keep an eye on the whole picture.

If the American people want to keep track of all the different streams of military, financial and humanitarian aid flowing into Ukraine, we need a dedicated team of regional experts following every penny.

It is just common sense, and it is what our bill, the Independent and Objective Oversight of Ukrainian Assistance Act, will do. If enacted, the United States would establish a special inspector general to ensure that the weapons, cash and other assistance we give to Ukraine are used efficiently, effectively and as intended.

Ukraine is not without flaws. We’ve heard several unsettling reports of bad actors exploiting our generosity. Some of our costly weapons have ended up in black markets. And corrupt officials have tried to line their own pockets.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is working to hold bad actors accountable. He has fired several top officials ensnared in a corruption scandal. We trust that our friends in Ukraine take corruption seriously. We must verify, too.

When faced with a similar, large-scale aid operation in 2008, Congress voted to install a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to oversee our spending in the Middle East. With regular reports to Congress and the American people, SIGAR helped Americans understand how previous aid was spent and misspent so it could better determine future aid. SIGAR goes further, even today, by providing a trove of resources, lessons learned and strategic advice.

SIGAR can serve as a road map to help establish an independent team of Ukrainian experts who know where to look if the money doesn’t add up. With dedicated resources, an inspector general can help resolve the conflict more quickly.

In Afghanistan, the United States needed focused, regional experts to track our aid. It would have been unwise to waste time trying to shoehorn bureaucrats from separate agencies into the role. The same is true in Ukraine.

This is a smart investment. Establishing a Special Inspector General for Ukraine aid would cost less than 0.02% of our aid to the region, and by ensuring oversight of our government spending, we’ll cut down on waste, fraud and abuse, saving hardworking taxpayers’ money.

We don’t know when Putin will end this illegal war, so we designed our bill to terminate funding for the special inspector general when U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine falls below $250 million. This will prevent the office from becoming another endlessly funded bureaucratic agency.

Polling shows that Americans are split on whether we should continue to directly fund Ukraine. These good-faith debates are important to our democracy – something Putin wouldn’t understand but does fear.

But today, it is difficult to engage in a meaningful debate over the effect of our aid when Congress doesn’t have a complete picture of how the money is spent. A Special Inspector General in Ukraine will help us make better investments to deter Putin and protect America’s national security interests.

Here’s the reality: Cutting off Ukraine aid wouldn’t end the war. It wouldn’t save the United States money. It would only lead to a more costly battle when Putin decides he wants more of Europe.

One of the best ways we can avoid escalation (and bring this conflict to a close) is by ensuring that the investments America has already made pay off instead of being wasted, lost or diverted.