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EDITORIAL: Don’t ignore Pentagon when it comes to federal waste

Providing for our common defense is a vital part of the federal government’s mission, but that doesn’t mean the Department of Defense should be immune from criticism over how it handles taxpayer money. And after a third straight failing audit of the agency, there’s plenty to criticize.

As reason.com highlighted last week, auditors found 2,410 separate problems with the Pentagon’s budgeting and record-keeping practices during its first-ever audit in 2018. Last year, auditors uncovered 1,300 new problems with the Defense Department, as well as 25 broad, “material weaknesses”— such as the nation’s beleaguered F-35 fighter program — where leadership and record-keeping blunders put taxpayer dollars at risk.

This year’s audit wasn’t much better.

While seven Pentagon agencies passed audits this year — one more than in 2019 — the DOD says its remaining 17 agencies won’t be able to pass clean audits until 2027, 37 years after they were first required to do so under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. The department is the sole federal agency to never achieve a clean audit despite an ever-present need to balance its books.

Roughly 17 percent of the country’s overall spending went to defense in fiscal 2020, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) pointed out this week, despite the Pentagon’s extensive (and expensive) track record of fiscal problems. The government watchdog agency notes, for example, that a 2016 DOD inspector general report found that the Defense Financing and Accounting Service, which handles payments for military and civilian personnel and retirees, couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments to general fund transactions and data. In 2017, auditors discovered 71 uninstalled missile motors — worth about $53 million — that weren’t properly documented.

Per a report by The New York Times, “$81 million worth of active material not tracked in the inventory system” was found last year at a Navy logistics center in Florida. And those are just some of the hits. Things are so bad, CAGW revealed, that multiple departments within the Pentagon have been targeted by the General Accounting Office as being high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement since 1995.

We need a strong and effective military, not a wasteful one. With the Pentagon failing three straight audits, more attention to defense waste is imperative. Fiscally responsible Republicans are on solid ground when they identify ineffective or wasteful spending on federal public assistance programs, but they need to be as aggressive when it comes to the Pentagon. Defense spending must also be part of any effort to examine our bloated federal budget for inefficiencies and potential savings.

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