Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Pentagon’s top watchdog has quiet but vital role in Ukraine

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson Jun12,2024

Robert Storch, the Defense Department’s inspector general (IG), has a little discussed but monumental job, overseeing one of the largest organizations in the world.  

Storch’s duties at the Pentagon have only grown amid the U.S. support for Ukraine — and after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s secret hospitalization scandal. 

The Pentagon, he says, “is so big that it does everything government does.”

“As an oversight entity, we have to have all the tools in our tool belt, we have to be able to do oversight over all of that.”

“We have great people here, many of them with vast experience,” Storch adds, mentioning staffers from both the military and civilian service. “There’s a good energy, it’s a high-performing organization.” 

Overseeing Ukraine is one of the biggest ongoing projects at the inspector general’s office. It’s been a particularly thorny topic on Capitol Hill, where far-right lawmakers have expressed growing opposition to U.S. aid, in part over concerns about the diversion of weapons headed to the embattled nation. 

The U.S. has sent more than $113 billion in aid to Kyiv since Russia invaded, and President Biden just signed into law another $61 billion.  

In January, Storch’s office released a report that showed the Pentagon has not properly tracked around $1 billion of weapons sent to Ukraine, but he says both Washington and Kyiv are generally handling the process responsibly.

“They all get the importance of accountability and transparency regarding U.S. assistance,” he says. “It’s just common sense that [Ukraine] would understand the importance of accountability and transparency to ensure that donor countries are willing to keep giving them stuff.” 

Still, Storch says he is in the “trust but verify” business and his team is hands-on in Ukraine, with staff on the ground coordinating with the military, the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development as they work to ensure assistance heads to the right place. 

The main inspector general effort is called programmatic oversight, in which a team does evaluations of how the Defense Department is tracking weapons. These usually end in reports and recommendations on how to improve. Storch says there is definitely “room for improvement” in Ukraine, even with officials avoiding any major scandals.

Another task is more investigative, with staff working to get information and review whether diversion of assistance has taken place or if there has been related criminal conduct. 

While his office is staunchly nonpartisan, Ukraine is a personal topic for Storch. When he was a federal prosecutor, he moved to Kyiv with his family and worked with the Ukrainian government to address corruption from December 2007 to December 2009.  

He has made multiple other trips to Ukraine since, and he sees real movement in the country on tackling corruption. 

“It’s gratifying to see the progress that they’ve made,” he says. “In terms of perspective, first of all, it’s difficult to see honestly, having lived out there [and to] see the country at war now.” 

Storch’s office released a website in March that tracks the U.S. aid sent to Ukraine, an effort he describes as a “convenient one-stop shop for people to be able to see everything that’s going on.” 

It came together after collaboration with a broader federal working group and, though it was unveiled amid the congressional debate over sending more aid to Ukraine, Storch says it had nothing to do with politics. 

“Nothing we do is timed with regard to anything that’s going on politically,” he says. “The idea of bringing it all together in one place, making it convenient, is what motivated that. I’m thrilled by it. Our folks worked really hard with our partners to put it together. 

“Sometimes we’re gonna find things that are bad, but people will know that someone’s watching,” Storch adds. “And I think for the public, that’s really important.” 

Born in Jacksonville, Fla., to a large family —he had six siblings growing up — Storch earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his law degree from Columbia. He worked in several areas related to law, including as a clerk, assistant attorney and at private firms, before he joined the U.S. attorney’s office in 1995. 

He spent more than two dozen years working as a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice (DOJ), focusing on corruption and white-collar crime. 

Storch found inspector general work when he was asked to join the office overseeing the DOJ in 2012, where he eventually became the deputy inspector general. 

Although he joined the inspector general’s office to “give back a little bit,” it wasn’t his first choice. 

“I hated it my first year,” he says. “I missed doing the mission of the Department of Justice out there, prosecuting and putting away the bad guys.” 

But the mission of the inspector general began to appeal to him, Storch says.

“I really came to appreciate the privilege we have in the IG community to get paid by the taxpayer to ensure the integrity and efficiency of government, which is a significant responsibility and privilege,” he says. 

“I really came to realize, not only are you privileged to do the work, but it really can have an impact on really important places,” he adds. 

Storch later joined the inspector general office for the National Security Agency (NSA) before he was confirmed to oversee the Defense Department in November 2022. 

One of the biggest tasks overseeing the Pentagon is conducting audits of a department with more than a million service members and around 750,000 civilian personnel.  

The Pentagon has failed six audits in a row and often can’t account for billions of dollars, a pressing issue as the department’s annual budget has swollen to around $900 billion.  

Storch says a “fundamental issue” is the Pentagon’s outdated financial management systems. 

“They’re fighting the battle almost with one hand behind their back with the systems they’re dealing with. Until they get a handle on that, it’s hard to achieve. That’s not to say it can’t be done,” he says, pointing to the U.S. Marines passing an audit this year. 

“There’s still a ton of work to do,” he adds. 

One high-profile problem for Storch emerged in January when Austin, the Defense secretary, failed to disclose his hospitalization for prostate cancer to the White House and top administration officials until three days after he was in the intensive care unit.  

Facing a backlash, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the incident that largely cleared staff of wrongdoing, finding there was no ill-intent behind the failure to disclose and notify the White House. 

Storch, however, launched his own inquiry into the hospitalization.

“I determined that it was appropriate and would be important to take an independent look at that,” he says. “See what happened and see what the procedures are for the future.” 

It all amounts to a wide effort for the Pentagon inspector general’s office. Storch says he oversees 1,800 staff and 150 offices spread out across the globe, considering staff generally set up wherever the military works.  

For Storch, inspector general work is about the mission of accountability.

“I think it is critically important for oversight entities to be transparent,” he says. “There’s a phrase, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’ — we want to do that in everything we do.” 

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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One thought on “Pentagon’s top watchdog has quiet but vital role in Ukraine”
  1. As an experienced journalist, it’s clear that Robert Storch plays a crucial role in overseeing the Pentagon’s operations, especially in relation to the ongoing support for Ukraine. It’s concerning to see the lack of proper tracking of weapons sent to Ukraine, but it’s reassuring to know that steps are being taken towards accountability and transparency.

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