Washington (CNN) - Outraged over what she says is incomplete information about billions of dollars paid to private contractors, a U.S. senator is threatening to issue subpoenas to the State Department and the Pentagon to force them to cooperate.
At a hearing about State and Defense department counternarcotics contracts, Sen, Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, scolded senior administration officials for not "minding the store."
"I will not hesitate to use subpoenas, because this is important. It is billions and billions of dollars. We need to get to a point where the appropriators say, 'no more money until you are at least capable of showing us how you have spent what you've got,' " McCaskill said.
At Thursday's hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, McCaskill criticized the Defense Department for going outside the government, hiring a contractor to answer the committee's questions about contracting. And she accused the State Department of providing inaccurate numbers to the Senate panel.
"We weren't even told it was an incomplete number when it was given to us. We had to point out to you it was an incomplete number based on other research we had done," McCaskill told Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson. "In fact, the number we got, somebody on our staff could have gotten in an hour in a Google data search."
The State Department has spent almost $7 billion working with Latin American countries to train local police and destroy drug fields and on a variety of other activities to combating narcotics, with the lion's share, $4.2 billion, spent in Colombia.
But Johnson was unable to tell McCaskill how much money was spent last year or how many counternarcotics contractors worked for the State Department. "I don't have it at my fingertips right now," Johnson said.
McCaskill, clearly frustrated by Johnson's inability to provide details, lectured him repeatedly about the lack of cooperation and oversight.
"We're talking about contracting and whether somebody is minding the store on contracting," McCaskill said. "And we are going to continue to bore down until we get the answers on contracting, because I have an uneasy feeling that if we get all the information, there is going to be a lot more work that has to be done on contracting oversight at State."
On the Pentagon side, William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said that some problems had been discovered only because of McCaskill's committee.
"In compiling the information requested by the subcommittee for this hearing, my office found inconsistent records management among the various contracting entities, found that the volume of procurement actions overwhelms staff capacity in some instances, and found that many of the acquisition steps are manual processes that are both time-consuming and error prone," Wechsler said in his prepared testimony.
Wechsler said the Defense Department was able to provide only an estimate about how much of the $5.3 billion it had spent on counternarcotics operations over the past decade had been paid to contractors.
He admitted that in order to prepare for the subcommittee's questions about contractors, the Defense Department had gone outside the government - and hired a contractor.
"I am concerned you have to estimate that figure, and I am even more concerned that you had to hire a contractor to help you estimate that figure," McCaskill said. "If, in fact, the people at the Pentagon are hiring contractors to take care of hearings, how do we ever get through to that maze of bureaucracy?" McCaskill asked. "Should we pass something in the Defense
Authorization (bill) this year that says you should not hire a contractor to help you prepare for oversight hearings?"