Pentagon Labyrinth: Wheeler says Congressional oversight lacking

Monday - 3/14/2011, 4:43pm EDT

Winslow Wheeler, editor, The Pentagon Labyrinth

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The Defense Department, like most agencies, is trying to figure out how it will keep programs running as Congress finishes spending plans for this year and next.

Lack of congressional oversight has contributed to the budgetary mess that DoD is in, said Winslow Wheeler, editor of Pentagon Labyrinth: Ten Short Essays to Help You Through It, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER. Wheeler is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information and has worked on national security issues for Senate members from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office.

"When you watch a hearing on Capitol Hill these days, all you hear are fawning questions from members of Congress basically asking how they can help, rather than asking questions about how can they better understand the proposals to spend a huge amount of money that is before them," Wheeler said. "It's really gotten to the point where we're really operating like blind men and we really don't understand what we're up to."

Wheeler said Congress has three fundamental powers - the power of the purse, to declare war and to investigate. Without investing in its investigatory power, the first two powers are "completely meaningless," Wheeler said.

Many lawmakers are reluctant to ask hard questions of DoD officials, worried that their statements will be painted as unpatriotic, Wheeler said.

Instead, DoD oversight should fall on people who want to do it - people who have no interest in a political career or working for DoD.

"Right now I have no impression whatsoever that the vast majority of Congress wants to do it," Wheeler said.

This interview is part of the DorobekINSIDER Pentagon Labyrinth series.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.