House committee leaders demand budget documents related to Ukraine aid holdup

Letter asks OMB to provide trove of information, much of it by Oct. 1

Then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney prepares to testify at a hearing in April 2018. Mulvaney was one of the recipients of a letter from the House Budget and Appropriations Committees that expressed concern over possibly withholding foreign aid funds appropriated by Congress including assistance to Ukraine. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The chairs of the House Budget and Appropriations committees took the Office of Management and Budget to task Friday for possibly illegally withholding foreign aid funds appropriated by Congress including assistance to Ukraine.

In a letter to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, Budget Chairman John Yarmuth and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said they are concerned OMB actions that withheld military aid to Ukraine “constitute unlawful impoundments in violation” of the landmark 1974 budget law.

[‘Sick man’: Trump team’s counter-impeachment strategy comes into focus]

The OMB “apportions” funding for agencies, directing the rate at which the money is spent. But the budget office is not allowed to permanently impound, or prevent the spending of, funds appropriated by Congress in bills signed by the president.

Lowey and Yarmuth questioned the OMB’s apportionment of foreign aid in a letter earlier this month. But the latest letter ties their questions to House Democrats’ initiation of an impeachment inquiry connected to Ukraine earlier this week.

The new letter cites reports that President Donald Trump ordered the OMB to withhold “almost $400 million in military aid and foreign assistance for Ukraine” at least a week prior to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The letter says that, according to reports, there was concern within the administration that if the money was not spent, the administration would “run afoul” of the law. OMB eventually released the funds.

“OMB has clear legal authorities to help ensure that agencies spend funds consistent with the law and the president’s priorities, and all actions taken under this Administration were clearly within those authorities,” an OMB official said. 

The letter from House committee leaders also cites an Aug. 12 whistleblower complaint to the inspector general of the intelligence community which relays concerns that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the family of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden the former vice president.

“As reports continue to emerge, we have deepening concerns that OMB continues to demonstrate a pattern of impeding agencies’ ability to use their enacted appropriations,” the letter says. It adds that “recent apportionment actions taken by OMB to withhold military aid and foreign assistance funding administered by the Department of Defense, Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development constitute unlawful impoundments.”

The letter says OMB “took the unusual and seemingly unprecedented step of delegating the authority to execute these apportionments to a political appointee, in lieu of career civil servants who have historically been the designated officials responsible for overseeing and executing these technical budget documents.”

The letter asks OMB to provide a trove of information, much of it by Oct. 1, including when the budget office first instructed agencies to withhold assistance to Ukraine, and the apportionments or reapportionments of related funding in the last quarter of fiscal 2019.

Lowey and Yarmuth said their committees are considering legislative proposals related to the apportionment process and the withholding of funds.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.