The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Movement to Audit the Pentagon Gains Traction

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Consensus in the nation’s capital is rare.  Agreement between Republicans and Democrats is typically confined to a belief that Washington, D.C. is miserably hot this time of year, and therefore the summer recess should last as long as possible.  However, the release of the official party platforms for 2016 has revealed another area of solidarity: auditing the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense (DOD) remains the sole federal agency that has not had a clean audit under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  The books are so bad that areas within the DOD have been on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement since 1995.  In the latest report, released in February 2015, eight sections of the DOD were labeled as high risk. 

A July 20, 2016 Bloomberg article contained the criticisms of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who said, “The 25-year push to audit the books is stuck at a roadblock.  Billions of dollars have been spent trying to solve the root cause problem, but the fix is nowhere in sight.  And until it is, auditing the books will remain an elusive goal.”

In 2013, the Pentagon announced with much fanfare that the Marine Corps became the first military service to attain a clean audit.  Then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel even held a ceremony on February 6, 2014, stating, “I know that it might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment, but, damn, this is an accomplishment!  And I think it deserves a Hall of Heroes recognition.” 

Damn, that celebration was short-lived.  A July 30, 2015 GAO report stated that the DOD Inspector General (IG) “did not perform sufficient procedures, under professional standards, and consequently did not obtain sufficient, appropriate audit evidence to support the audit opinion.”  The Pentagon (and the Marine Corps) were back at square one.

Legislators have made several noteworthy attempts to require the DOD to get its fiscal house in order.  In 2010, Congress established September 2017 as the deadline for a review by independent financial auditors, which the Pentagon is now likely to miss.  On February 2, 2015 Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced S. 327, the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, with eight bipartisan cosponsors, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).  An identical bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on the same day with 11 bipartisan cosponsors.  The bills died in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.  The most recent Congressional action occurred in April 2016, when the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 passed with an amendment requiring the Pentagon to rank military branches on their ability to complete an audit. 

The necessity for an audit is revealed on a regular basis.  For example, a July 26, 2016 DOD IG report noted that the Defense Financing and Accounting Service, which provides payment for military and civilian personnel and retirees, could not adequately document $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments to general fund transactions and data.

While party platforms are nonbinding, language supporting an audit of the Pentagon in both Republican and Democratic documents represents forward progress.  Regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election (or which party controls Congress), the notion of holding the DOD to the same standards as all other federal agencies has gained a measure of traction.  Without such sustained pressure, Pentagon bookkeepers seem unlikely to reenter the Hall of Heroes anytime soon.

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