Applicability of Certain U.S. Laws That Pertain to U.S. Military Involvement in El Salvador

ID-82-53: Published: Jul 27, 1982. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 1982.

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As the war between the government of El Salvador and guerrilla forces escalated, questions arose concerning the applicability of several U.S. laws to U.S. involvement in El Salvador. Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the deployment of U.S. military personnel and the provision of military equipment, training, and services to El Salvador with reference to the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the War Powers Resolution. It also examined the Uniformed Services Pay Act of 1963 and its implementing regulations relating to hostile fire pay (HFP).

Although a request to designate El Salvador as a hostile fire area was approved and then reversed, GAO found that HFP has been paid to most of the U.S. Army personnel in El Salvador on an individual monthly basis. The overall extent and continuous nature of these payments indicates that the Department of Defense (DOD) treats El Salvador as a hostile fire area. Under the AECA, the President is required to report to Congress within 48 hours of the existence or a change in status of significant hostilities or terrorist acts which may endanger American lives or property. Apparently, the major reason for the DOD reversal of the decision to designate El Salvador as a hostile fire area was to preclude giving the impression of triggering this requirement. Despite property losses, the possible endangering of U.S. personnel, and the unparalleled use of emergency funds, no report was filed. GAO believes that a report should have been filed. The DOD determination that the War Powers Resolution did not require a report to Congress concerning the 1981 deployment to El Salvador of U.S. mobile training teams was based in part on a representation that such personnel were not expected to be exposed to areas of military operations. Facts developed by GAO contradict those representations. GAO believes that, in the future, DOD should closely consider the applicability of the War Powers Resolution reporting requirement and monitor events to ascertain that the facts as represented are true.

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