Republican criticism: GOP appropriators quickly panned GAO’s ruling, arguing that the watchdog has established different standards for holding Democratic and Republican administrations accountable. Earlier this year, dozens of Republicans urged GAO to investigate Biden’s funding freeze, contending that the move amounted to a violation of federal budget law.
“GAO’s decision today makes clear that there are two sets of rules when it comes to executing funds appropriated by Congress: one for Democrat administrations and one for Republican administrations,” Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement. “The decision splits hairs to justify actions that, just two years ago, were determined to be contrary to ‘the faithful execution of the law.’“
Key context: In its legal opinion, GAO said the Biden administration has legitimately paused border wall funding provided by Congress “in order to perform environmental reviews“ and “determine project funding needs in light of changes that warrant using funds differently than initially planned.”
In the case of Trump’s halt on Ukraine aid, the watchdog ruled that Trump was illegally substituting “his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Still, the former president faced no penalty and was acquitted on impeachment charges of abusing his power by withholding the foreign assistance.
A bipartisan government funding package signed into law late last year included $1.4 billion for the wall this fiscal year, in line with what Congress gave Trump through previous spending packages. GAO recommended that the Biden administration come up with a plan for spending that money in order to beef up oversight.
What’s next: While OMB has asked Congress to cancel that funding, the agency has committed to spend the money on eligible border security efforts if lawmakers do not act.
The Biden administration also announced late last week that it is returning $2 billion Trump diverted from military construction projects. That money will now fund 66 military projects in 11 states, three territories and 16 countries.