John McCaslin

Given the monetary investment by American taxpayers in Iraq and Afghanistan - approaching a staggering half-trillion dollars in the space of four years - it's no wonder President Bush is so determined to stay the course and complete the mission.

The question, however, remains: Who is keeping track of all this money and how is it being spent?

Desperately seeking those answers, and a whole lot more, is the Project On Government Oversight (in its infancy the Project on Military Procurement, made famous initially for exposing the Pentagon's $7,600 coffeemaker and $436 hammer.)

POGO, as it's called today, has since expanded its mandate to all federal agencies, investigating systemic waste, fraud, favoritism and abuse - particularly at a time when there is little oversight and "our federal government is more vulnerable than ever to the influence of money in politics and powerful special interests."

"I think (Hurricane) Katrina has started to spark an awareness . . . that we need to start asking more significant questions (about federal allocations and spending). That is the patriotic thing to do," POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian told The Beltway Beat on Wednesday.

Specifically regarding the U.S. military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has made it known that in addition to the $50 billion it will provide to American troops in the days before Christmas, the Pentagon wants a wartime request of $100 billion. And few are arguing against such allocations, given the danger posed to the U.S. troops.

"You have Congress suddenly presented with a massive request from the Pentagon, and you will always have a general feeling in Congress that 'I can't question that too much,'" Brian explains. "Most would agree that national security is the most important function of government, so you have a tendency not to ask questions on substance."

That said, there always remain questions about "what we are paying for and who are we paying? Questioning how the government spends its money . . . has gone out of vogue. It amazes me."

So POGO, we learned, is to branch out even further, actually investigating the arm of Congress that is charged with conducting oversight probes.

"The (Government Accountability Office) first of all is much smaller than it used to be; it does not have the tools it used to have," Miss Brian says. "So we are going to study the GAO, the (inspectors general), looking at these institutions that exist today to protect taxpayers, to determine if they have the tools they need to accomplish their mission.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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