(CNSNews.com) - State Department officials refused Wednesday to testify before the House International Relations Committee on Capitol Hill concerning United Nations peacekeeping policy around the world. The committee wants to know why so much American taxpayer money is going into these missions, how the Clinton Administration is planning these missions and why the State Department hasn't been forthcoming with the answers.
Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) said the State Department had originally promised to produce two witnesses for the hearing but then refused because the department had not been subpoenaed. The committee, instead, heard from witnesses from private foreign policy think tanks.
"I am deeply disappointed at the State Department's refusal to testify in a public setting on this important topic. We received a letter at the eleventh hour yesterday (Tuesday) from the Department of State confirming their refusal to testify, absent a subpoena," Gilman said at the committee hearing.
Had the State Department been formally subpoenaed and refused to testify, it could have been held in "contempt of Congress," punishable by law.
In the State Department's letter to Gilman, Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Larkin said, "Your committee and the Congress more broadly have been regularly and fully informed on the costs of UN peacekeeping missions and the policy reasons for recommending approval for new or expanded missions in East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
Larkin continued, "As you know, the Department transmits information on peacekeeping to you in the form of monthly briefings, Congressional notifications, special briefings by State Department officials and consultations by Ambassador [Richard] Holbrooke. We hope this information is useful and look forward to scheduling a briefing with you on these matters."
According to Gilman, "UN peacekeeping is facing very difficult challenges on the ground. Missteps in Congo, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and East Timor have raised serious questions about the way in which these missions are planned and executed, as well as the process by which the US approves and supports these missions."
Gilman also accused the Clinton Administration of failing to adequately inform the General Accounting Office on the United Nations missions now underway in "Africa, Asia and Europe."
"The legislative branch, which has the constitutional duty to approve the expenditure of our citizens taxes, still awaits timely and complete cooperation from the administration on this pending review by the GAO of how these operations are approved and conducted. The refusal of the State Department, to make available to the committee the two witnesses we had requested for today's hearing is not a promising sign. Perhaps, they will see fit to join our committee later this week for the private briefing they offered," Gilman said.
The State Department had no comment on Gilman's remarks when contacted Wednesday.
Gilman said he received a report from GAO last month after requesting it a year earlier on United Nations peacekeeping costs. He said the report showed the cost of those UN missions around the world will exceed this year's UN budget by some $600 million.
"These new budget figures are of great concern to me. I urge President Clinton to engage the Congress in an honest dialogue about peacekeeping funding and policy issues. The Congress must have a greater say in the missions that are endorsed by the United Nations," Gilman said.
As of July, 2000, the GAO report said the UN had 15 peacekeeping missions going on around the world because of Security Council mandates.