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Editorial: Pentagon must be held responsible for keeping clean financial records

Published: Monday, December 2, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 22:12

Wasteful military spending is more than a rumor. A recent Reuters report investigated the accounting practices (or lack thereof) at the Pentagon and found that financial reports are systematically fabricated and supplies and money frequently go missing.

Just how much money is being wasted? It’s impossible to tell. Former employees of accounting agencies and others tasked with balancing the Pentagon’s books against the Treasury Department’s said in the report that their accounting procedures included making “unsubstantiated change actions,” which translates to making the numbers up when necessary. Every month, the military turned over records with missing numbers, implausible figures or no information about how money was spent.

Staff at the agencies did their best to resolve these issues and continued to try and find the right information even after the reports had been filed, but often the bogus numbers stood. Because of these practices, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law requiring annual audits of government departments. Since 1996, the year the law was instated, the Pentagon has received more than $8.5 trillion and it’s never been accounted for. There are just too many agencies, procedures and rules for the department to know where all its money is going.  In 2009, Congress passed a law saying that the Pentagon had to be ready to undergo an audit by 2017, but it doesn’t look like they’ll meet that deadline.

The numbers that we do know are just as stunning as the ones we don’t. In 2012, these “unsupported adjustments” and “reconciling amounts,” known as plugs, totalled $9.22 billion. Between 2003 and 2011, the military lost track $5.8 billion worth of supplies. The current backlog of audits for outside contracts is worth more than $500 billion. A 2012 Pentagon report showed that the military ordered $733 million worth of supplies it already had excessive stocks of.

These miscalculations can have a serious effect on military performance and the lives of those who receive a salary from the Pentagon. The Pentagon inspector general said in a 2012 report that units affected by the loss of supplies “may experience equipment shortages that could hinder their ability to train soldiers and respond to emergencies.” There are numerous cases of soldiers receiving improper payments or having their compensation slashed without warning or explanation.

With a $565.8 billion dollar budget, accounting is a formidable task, but the Pentagon has to do a better job of keeping track of their money.  

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