The Pentagon’s Chief Financial Officer, Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale, today conceded that the Congressionally mandated auditing requirements are “more of a challenge than I expected.”
That’s putting it mildly. Congress required full financial accountings of Pentagon spending in the 1990s, and in 2010 ordered the Pentagon to be ready for a “full audit” by 2017. The halfway point to 2017 is here, and the Government Accountability Office says the Pentagon is well short of where it would need to be to meet those goals.
20 solid years of work by military financial managers hasn’t amounted to much in the grand scheme of things, and while Undersecretary Hale says he is determined to “eventually” get the military ready for an audit, eventually is starting to add up to an awfully long time.
Navy comptroller Susan Rabern says she is “cautiously optimistic” about meeting the goals sometime next year, but that the cultural shift in the US military’s “worldwide business operations” has been enormous, and getting old data on decades of unaccounted-for spending has been a formidable task.
The initial push to get the Pentagon’s financial house in order came from the notorious reports of $640 toilet seats and $435 hammers. Interest in reining in Pentagon spending slowed after 9/11, however, when budgets soared again to record highs, and interest in where hundreds of billions of dollars ended up was minimal, at best.
The GAO’s latest report warns that military reports to Congress remain “inconsistent and sometimes unreliable,” and that the Defense Department simply has no ability to produce a full accounting of all of its assets, let alone tracking whether payments they’re making to contractors are appropriate.