Last month, the Pentagon finally completed its first ever department-wide audit. It failed.
Everyone in Washington knew the Pentagon would fail its audit. For months the Pentagon had been lowering expectations. Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist has repeatedly said that the Pentagon will need a decade to pass an audit.
The effort to manage expectations worked. The press greeted the news of the failed audit with barely a yawn, and moved on.
Congress and taxpayers should not move on. The single largest agency of the United States Government just confirmed that it cannot track what it has done with your money. It cannot say where the equipment and parts it already purchased are. It does not know what buildings and land it does or does not own.
Remember the context. Today the federal government and many states are busy piling new accounting burdens on poor people. To be eligible for food stamps, a single mother taking care of small children has to document every step of her job search. In 15 states, recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments can be drug tested—often without any reason for suspicion.
The poor cannot use “we never expected to pass this audit” as an excuse. Meanwhile, failures that would set off instant firings of senior leaders in any other organization are met with a shrug at the Pentagon. When the Navy has parts depots that have never had a real inventory check, Congress doesn’t seem to raise an eyebrow. Pentagon apologists on Capitol Hill say that taxpayers shouldn’t worry. They say it’s just too complicated to go back and account for all that stuff in the middle of fighting a war.
Congress has enabled a military culture where waste is a virtue and frugality is foolish. When a program goes wrong, Congress just gives the Department of Defense more money. Pentagon leaders suffer no consequences to their career or reputation when they fabricate estimated costs or when their ventures fail at twice the projected costs. Asset management practices that would probably get private sector bosses fired—or food stamp applicants prosecuted for fraud—inflict no real consequence on the military.
The Pentagon’s failing grade on its first full audit must be a wake-up call. The new Congress must finally demand real answers, real accountability, and real change from our nation’s military.