The Pentagon has significantly lowered its estimate of the value of the weapons it has sent to Ukraine, freeing up at least $3 billion to resupply Ukrainian troops in their war against Russia over the next few months.
The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to explain how it intends to continue supporting Ukraine without asking Congress for an increase in its budget. On Thursday, Pentagon and State Department officials told congressional staffers they had discovered an accounting problem that could free up more resources ahead of Ukraine’s planned counteroffensive this summer.
Pentagon officials realized their mistake nearly two months ago, according to a senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the accounting processes.
But rather than assuaging Congress’ concerns, the revelation was met with frustration and anger, as some lawmakers slammed the Biden administration for what they saw as a hugely problematic mistake.
“These funds could have been used for additional supplies and weapons for the upcoming counteroffensive rather than rationing funds for the remainder of the fiscal year,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement.
They urged the government to “make up for this precious lost time” by sending long-range missiles and cluster munitions to Ukraine, but they refuse.
Administration officials stated that their mistake was an incorrect valuation, explaining that they calculated the price of each item based on how much it would cost to replace it with new equipment, and not based on its retail value, which be lower. According to government and congressional officials, they plan to make the same change in assessing their remaining powers to ship Taiwan weapons from existing Pentagon inventories.
“This overstatement has not diminished our support for Ukraine, nor has it impacted our ability to bring capabilities to the battlefield,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Congressional staffers expressed their disbelief that it had taken the government a 15-month war to spot such a fundamental yet critical accounting error. Some said they thought the revision could be a way for officials to keep supplies going at a time when available funds for Ukraine are threatening to run out.
However, they added that they had not yet decided whether the adjustment would result in a windfall of additional weapons for Ukraine.
MPs from both parties have repeatedly asked the government how it intends to expand its dwindling budgetary authority to quickly ship arms to Ukraine — the so-called presidential withdrawal power — without hampering Kiev’s efforts to launch a decisive counteroffensive against Russia this summer.
“I’m concerned that it’s going to leave a void,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, in an interview Wednesday before employees were notified of the accounting revision. “I am concerned that the government has not commented on how much money it still needs and by what timeframe the funds we have provided will be exhausted.”
“They need the ammo they need and the skills they need, and I think we need that big push this summer to smack Putin in the mouth a few more times,” said MP Elissa Slotkin, one Democrat from Michigan and former CIA, State Department and Pentagon official who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Presidential deduction powers allow the government to draw from existing arms inventories rather than having to wait several months or years for defense contractors to manufacture arms under new contracts. The Biden administration has highlighted the program as one of its key achievements in helping Ukraine fight Russian forces.
As part of the removal authority, the administration decides which weapons from existing stocks are to be sent and how their value is determined. Since the conflict began, the Pentagon has announced a new aid package worth hundreds of millions of dollars about every two weeks.
But according to the administration’s own calculations, their coffers were running low. Congress approved a $14.5 billion disbursement authority for the fiscal year ended September 30. Only $2.7 billion of that remained as of Wednesday, according to congressional staffers. That’s not enough, they said, to sustain the current pace and scale of military aid packages without running out of funds in July or August.
Several Democratic and Republican officials said State Department and Pentagon officials have expressed understanding for their concerns in private briefings, including last week.
The White House, the staff added, has firmly opposed the idea of going to Congress to expand those powers before the end of the fiscal year. According to some congressmen, White House officials said Ukraine had stockpiled enough equipment from previous military aid packages to launch a long-awaited counteroffensive against Russian positions. Some MPs said in interviews that they had been told by government officials that if Ukraine still had a deficit, European suppliers like Germany would be able to bridge it with additional military donations.
But many senior congressmen responsible for overseeing military aid programs to Ukraine in both parties remained unconvinced by these arguments. Several of them speculated this week that the Biden administration refused to table a request for more appropriations and deduction powers, fearing it would be awkward to appeal to Congress while a debt ceiling deal is being negotiated , where Democrats are trying to maintain discretionary spending on non-defense issues that Republicans are threatening to cut.
The senior White House official said colleagues wanted to see how Ukraine’s counteroffensive was progressing before determining what other weapons it needed and how to seek permission from Congress for help to support that offensive.
Mr. Biden and his top aides have stated that they will support Ukraine until it wins the war. However, the government has not yet requested a new withdrawal authority or additional funds for Ukraine to be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1. Congressional staffers worry that delaying the start of this discussion could make lawmakers’ ability to pass legislation more difficult to approve new security aid — and more broadly, jeopardize Ukraine’s assertiveness.
John Ismay contributed reporting.