The Pentagon isn’t able to tell federal auditors what happened to more than $1.3 billion in funds intended for construction projects in Afghanistan.
The money was dispersed through a program established to speed up the rebuilding process in Afghanistan by giving money directly to military officers to build roads, bridges, dams and other projects to avoid the lengthy bureaucratic procurement process.
But in the rush to spend and build, much of the money paid out by the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) between 2004 and 2014 has gone unaccounted for, according to auditors who spent the last year trying to find it.
A new report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says the Defense Department could only provide its office with documentation for $890 million, or roughly 40 percent, of the total $2.2 billion in funds.
The auditors blamed the Pentagon’s financial and project management process for not sufficiently tracking spending, saying DoD’s system doesn’t contain enough data or comprehensive information relating to the actual costs of the projects.
The auditors took the information the Pentagon did provide and divided it up into categories like education, health care, water and sanitation. Aside from transportation, the item that had the most expenses was labeled “unknown.”
U.S. Central Command responded to the inspector general’s findings, or lack thereof, by saying that some of the unaccounted for CERP funds had been shifted to other military needs. “Although the report is technically accurate, it did not discuss the counterinsurgency strategies in relationship to CERP,” the Central Command said.
In total, the U.S. has doled out about $3.7 billion through CERP funds, with $2.2 billion coming from the Defense Department.
This is just the latest report from SIGAR highlighting the Pentagon’s problems keeping track of the enormous amount of money flowing into Afghanistan. Earlier reporting suggested the U.S. has lost some $100 billion in the reconstruction efforts.
As expected, groups representing hospitals sued the Trump administration Wednesday to stop a new regulation would require them to make public the prices for services they negotiate with insurers. Claiming the rule “is unlawful, several times over,” the industry groups, which include the American Hospital Association, say the rule violates their First Amendment rights, among other issues.
"The burden of compliance with the rule is enormous, and way out of line with any projected benefits associated with the rule," the suit says. In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that hospitals “should be ashamed that they aren’t willing to provide American patients the cost of a service before they purchase it.”
Between December 2017 and July 2019, enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) fell by 1.9 million, or 2.6%. The Kaiser Family Foundation provided an analysis of that drop Monday, saying that while some of it was likely caused by enrollees finding jobs that offer private insurance, a significant portion is related to enrollees losing health insurance of any kind. “Experiences in some states suggest that some eligible people may be losing coverage due to barriers maintaining coverage associated with renewal processes and periodic eligibility checks,” Kaiser said.
Billionaire John D. Arnold, a former energy trader and hedge fund manager turned philanthropist with a focus on health care, says Big Pharma appears to have a powerful hold on members of Congress.
Arnold pointed out that PhRMA, the main pharmaceutical industry lobbying group, had revenues of $459 million in 2018, and that total lobbying on behalf of the sector probably came to about $1 billion last year. “I guess $1 bil each year is an intractable force in our political system,” he concluded.
The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin says Elizabeth Warren’s proposed taxes could claim more than 100% of income for some wealthy investors. Here’s an example Rubin discussed Friday:
“Consider a billionaire with a $1,000 investment who earns a 6% return, or $60, received as a capital gain, dividend or interest. If all of Ms. Warren’s taxes are implemented, he could owe 58.2% of that, or $35 in federal tax. Plus, his entire investment would incur a 6% wealth tax, i.e., at least $60. The result: taxes as high as $95 on income of $60 for a combined tax rate of 158%.”
In Rubin’s back-of-the-envelope analysis, an investor worth $2 billion would need to achieve a return of more than 10% in order to see any net gain after taxes. Rubin notes that actual tax bills would likely vary considerably depending on things like location, rates of return, and as-yet-undefined policy details. But tax rates exceeding 100% would not be unusual, especially for billionaires.