By Matt Purple, Rare Contributor
In 1990, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act. Its text noted the obvious: that “billions of dollars are lost each year through fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” and that “more effective general and financial management practices” were needed within the federal government.
The law required a slew of government agencies to undergo a yearly audit.
One of those agencies was the Pentagon.
Since then, the Pentagon hasn’t been audited a single time. Thanks to dodges by the Defense Department and a lack of enforcement by Congress, the 1990 requirement has been completely disregarded for 24 years.
Now a group of fiscally conservative Republicans and anti-war Democrats are demanding compliance. Last week Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014.
The legislation is backed by a curious left-right coalition rarely seen in Washington. Burgess is a known budget hawk and Lee is the only member of Congress who voted against the Authorization for Use of Military Force after 9/11. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has endorsed the legislation, as has legendary consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
The Pentagon has supposedly been preparing for an all-hands-on-deck audit since 2011. But the agency keeps backtracking on its pledges. In May, the Defense Department decided to make only 77 percent of its funds available for oversight. Even with that narrowed criteria, the Pentagon still won’t have even some of its books ready until at least the end of the year.
Last year Congress retaliated by introducing legislation that would have docked spending for every unaudited Pentagon fund by 5 percent. That bill died in committee and the current version is more lenient, only defunding affected areas by 0.5 percent.
“It’s not a draconian cut, it’s half of 1 percent,” Burgess told U.S. News and World Report. “We’re not asking for much, we’re just asking for them to comply with a 25-year-old law.”
Even without the transparency of an audit, there’s known to be plenty of waste at the Pentagon. In 2011, the Defense Department overpaid a single oil contractor by $200 million. Its jets have been running on fuel harvested from algae, which costs an astonishing $150 per gallon, more than 64 times the price of regular jet fuel. Senator Tom Coburn estimates there is at least $68 billion in military waste, noting everything from military microbreweries to a Star Trek workshop.
Critics of an audit charge that the military needs ample money to prepare for threats. But Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the biggest threat to American national security is government debt.
Senator Rand Paul has been pushing a Pentagon audit for several years. “Republicans need to acknowledge that not every dollar is well spent or sacred in the military and we have to look for ways to make every department accountable,” he said in 2012.