Congress has held up most of the Defense Department’s request to spend up to $1 billion to combat the Ebola outbreak, with some lawmakers holding back funds until the administration provides more information on its strategy.
Lawmakers on key committees have allowed the administration to spend only a portion of the funds until officials provide detailed responses about how they plan to protect the U.S. military from being infected and their longer-term strategy, congressional aides said.
Other lawmakers expressed concerns this week that the delay could hinder the country’s response to the epidemic. (More: Cuban Doctors at the Forefront of Ebola Battle in Africa)
“One thing we know about stopping pandemics is that time is of the essence,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said in a written statement. “Oversight by congressional defense committees must not hinder U.S. leadership in the fight against this public health nightmare.”
Last month, the Defense Department made two requests to transfer a total of $1 billion between accounts so more money could be used to fund the bolstered U.S. military efforts to halt the spread of the virus. Defense officials said they expect their first six months of Ebola operations to cost roughly $750 million, but they might need more in the future.
The money is meant to pay for the deployment of up to 4,000 troops, including the division headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division. The military has also sent Marine V-22 tilt rotor aircraft and is constructing mobile field hospitals in Liberia.
The mobile laboratories that are being used to test samples for Ebola contamination are being paid for with separate funds, according to the Pentagon.
The top Democrat and Republican on each of four committees need to sign off on the requests in order for the administration to spend the funds. The four panels are the armed services committees and defense appropriations subcommittees in each chamber.
So far the committees have allowed the Defense Department to transfer the funds between accounts, but have limited how much they can access until they provide details about strategy. The administration can only use what all committees have approved, which was $100 million as of Thursday. By Friday, the administration will have spent $50 million, according to one official. (Elsewhere: U.K. Plans Ebola Screening for Some Travelers From West Africa)