Pentagon Budget: SNAFU
The Defense Department has only a vague idea of where much of it money goes:
Since 2004, the Pentagon has spent roughly $16 billion annually to maintain and modernize the military’s business systems, but most are as unreliable as ever—even as the surge in defense spending is creating more room for error. The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it’s virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department’s brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can’t be.
For the first three quarters of 2007, $1.1 trillion in Army accounting entries hadn’t been properly reviewed and substantiated, according to the Department of Defense’s inspector general. In 2006, $258.2 billion of recorded withdrawals and payments from the Army’s main account were unsupported. It’s as if the Army had submitted multibillion-dollar expense reports without any receipts.
Preoccupied with protecting their turf, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines continue to maintain separate, increasingly outdated systems that can’t talk to each other, trace disbursements, or detect overbilling by contractors.
Now, the fact that the books are all screwed up doesn’t necessarily mean the money is being misspent. Indeed, my strong guess is that, within the constraints of a gigantic bureaucracy, they money’s going where it’s supposed to. But the fact that we don’t know for sure is pretty sad.
Especially on “Tax Day,” when you contemplate where all your hard-earned tax dollars are going: