The Pentagon has significantly reduced its estimate of the value of weapons it has sent to Ukraine to fight Russian forces amid intensifying pressure to explain how it intends to keep Ukrainian troops supplied without approaching Congress to replenish its budget before the end of the fiscal year.
The revised accounting frees up $3 billion worth of weapons that could be given to Ukraine from existing stocks, Pentagon and State Department officials told a skeptical audience of congressional staff members on Thursday, some of whom spoke about the change on the condition of anonymity to discuss private briefings from the administration.
Congressional officials said the Biden administration provided no immediate details of its accounting other than citing internal adjustments. But the administration has been under bipartisan pressure in recent weeks to explain how it intended to stretch what little remains of its budget authority to supply Ukraine with weapons quickly — called presidential drawdown authority — without handicapping Kyiv’s efforts to mount a decisive counteroffensive against Russia this summer.
“I’m worried that it’s going to leave a gap,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in an interview Wednesday, before staffer members were told about accounting revision. “I am concerned that the administration has not been forthcoming on how much more money they need, and at what period will the funds that we’ve appropriated run out.”
Presidential drawdown authority allows the administration to draw from existing weapons stocks, instead of waiting the several months or years it can take for defense contractors to manufacture weapons under new contracts. The Biden administration has highlighted the program as one of its signature achievements in helping Ukraine battle Russian forces.
But according to the administration’s own calculations, its coffers have been running low. Congress approved $14.5 billion in drawdown authority to last through the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. As of Wednesday, according to congressional aides, only $2.7 billion of that was left. That is not enough, they said, to sustain the current pace and size of military aid packages without running out of funds by late summer.
The Biden administration has resisted the idea of approaching Congress to augment those authorities before the end of the fiscal year, according to lawmakers and congressional aides. Several of them speculated this week that was partially because of concerns that it would be awkward to approach Congress for more Ukraine funds while negotiating a deal on the debt ceiling, in which Democrats are trying to preserve nondefense discretionary spending that Republicans are threatening to cut.
But congressional officials in both parties worry that the administration’s reluctance to start a conversation with Congress about approving future funds for Ukraine will compromise lawmakers’ ability to pass such legislation — and that any resulting delays could jeopardize Ukraine’s capabilities, particularly as it enters a critical phase of the war.
The White House had no immediate comment. Mr. Biden and his top aides have said they would support Ukraine until it won the war.
Before the accounting changed, congressional officials estimated that unless the White House reduced the size of its military assistance packages, the drawdown authority to supply Ukraine’s forces would probably run out in July or August. Several Democratic and Republican staff members said that State Department and Pentagon officials had sympathized with their concerns in private briefings, including during one last week in which officials from both departments spoke to them about the dwindling amount available.
Administration officials said Thursday that the discovery of an extra $3 billion in drawdown funds resulted from an error in their previous valuation: The price of each item should have been based on how much it would cost to replace it, they explained, instead of its sale value.
They plan to reflect the same change in their assessment of their remaining drawdown authority to supply weapons to Taiwan, according to administration and congressional officials.
But the Pentagon’s reasoning did little to placate congressional aides, who have been frustrated by what they say is a lack of transparency from the White House about its accounting practices — or its plans for keeping weapons flowing to Ukraine past the summer.
Under drawdown authority, the administration decides which weapons to pull from existing stocks and how to determine their value. Since the start of the conflict, the Pentagon has announced a new drawdown package about every two weeks in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
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