Editorial: Audit the Department of Defense

Editorial Board

Since Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requiring federal government departments to have annual financial audits, all but one department has complied. Yet the Department of Defense, the one department that has not provided an audit to the American people, is the one treated most generously by Donald Trump. In November 2017, Congress approved $700 billion for the Defense Department budget, which represents an increase of almost $100 billion from the previous year.

Politicians often call for government agencies to be more efficient, and to operate in a more “businesslike” fashion. But what business would throw money into its most profligate and unaccountable division? While departments such as the State Department and agencies such as the IRS and EPA have their budgets reduced, the Defense budget rapidly rises. But is that money well spent? Nobody knows because the Defense Department cannot reliably explain how it spends its funds.

In 2016 the Inspector General of the Army found that the Army had what are called adjusting entries, which are basically a form of correction or catching up on omitted entries, amounting to $6.5 trillion dollars for the year. Given that the entire official budget for the Army was $120 billion that year, this number is almost ludicrously horrifying. For comparison, remember the public concern expressed because the latest tax bill will increase the national debt by $1.5 trillion dollars.

We see that irresponsible behavior is rewarded. The agency Congress is most willing to give more funds to is the only one that cannot comply with the 1990 act requiring fiscal accountability and annual audits. 

When Mark Skidmore, an economics professor, publicized this outrage on USAWatchdog, the data files that had been previously available online were removed without explanation. In December, the Pentagon announced that they are actually going to comply with the 1990 law. According to the Pentagon’s latest promise, starting in December 2018 the public can expect annual audit reports. 

We’re not holding our breath. First, the task of getting the Pentagon’s books in order is monumental and little progress has been made to date. Second, the Pentagon has learned that there are no negative consequences for failure to obey the law. They get more funding even if they cannot tell the public how they spend it. So why would they start telling us now?