OMB typo creates confusion over Iraq funds request

The Office of Management and Budget's official request to Congress for $25 billion in additional fiscal 2005 funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan read like the usual formal government document -- until congressional staff and lobbyists got to the fine print.

Stuck in the document was a statement that the funds would be "available October 1, 2005." That would be a full year later than the Pentagon wants.

OMB spokesman Chad Kolton said it was in fact a typographical error -- albeit a rather big one -- and the request should have read that the funds would be available at the beginning of fiscal 2005, which is actually Oct. 1, 2004.

But not everyone in town realized the error. The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded by John Podesta, chief of staff to former President Clinton, rushed out a blast e-mail alert: "NEW: Bush Delays Iraq Money; $25B Can Only Be Spent After October 1, 2005."

According to the e-mail, which cites news accounts arguing that serious funding shortfalls exist for the troops in Iraq, the wait would mean "the money the military says it desperately needs is being purposely delayed by the White House."

Did the Center jump the gun slightly? Absolutely, said OMB's Kolton.

"They might want to try turning the lights out a little earlier over there," Kolton said, although he did see some good coming out of the Center's move. "Well, at least it shows they're actually reading legislative language for a change," he said.

David Sirota, a spokesman for the Center and former aide to House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said he was relieved to find out it was a typo, given the immediate needs of the troops, but added that it raised concerns about OMB staff.

"It's quite a typo. Shows the incompetence there," Sirota said. "It's not a term paper; it's funding for our troops."

Meanwhile, Sirota's old boss and other House Democrats are pushing for a hearing to review the new $25 billion request, which would delegate most of the funds -- $14 billion -- to the Army, and the rest to the other uniformed services and for classified purposes.

However, it would provide almost unfettered flexibility to shift money within accounts, requiring only five days' notice to the Appropriations and Armed Services committees before doing so.

That aspect was roundly criticized at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where some Republicans agreed with Armed Services ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., that that flexibility was really "just a $25 billion blank check."

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