The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Partial audit uncovers lax Pentagon accounting

Politics | Although the military appears to have trouble tracking its money, lawmakers are ready to give it more
by Evan Wilt
Posted 2/08/18, 04:50 pm

WASHINGTON—As Congress prepares to bust the federal budget with $300 billion in new spending, some of which is earmarked for the military, a new report shows the Pentagon is struggling to keep track of the funds it already has.

Politico reported Monday on an audit that found the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), one of the Pentagon’s largest departments, failed to properly document more than $800 million in spending.

The Pentagon has never undergone a full audit process, and the report raises new questions about how the department tracks its spending. DLA has more than 25,000 employees and receives $40 billion in annual funding.

David Norquist, the Pentagon’s top budget official, told Congress last month a complete audit of the Defense Department’s operations would require 1,200 auditors and cost about $1 billion. 

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, believes a full audit is long overdue.

“Congress for many years has been pushing for an audit for the Department of Defense,” he told me. “When a taxpayer sends a dollar to Washington, that’s a hard-earned dollar. Congress and the Department of Defense have the responsibility to make sure that dollar is well spent.”

Current law caps the Defense Department’s baseline budget at $549 billion a year, with extra funds allocated for emergency spending. This week’s bipartisan budget agreement would raise that by $80 billion for the rest of this fiscal year, adding another $5 billion to the total increase in fiscal year 2019.

The United States has the highest annual military budget in the world. China comes in a distant second with $215 billion in annual defense spending. But Republicans remain adamant that the U.S. military needs additional resources.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged Congress on Wednesday to finalize a budget proposal that includes more money for the military: “I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops and families’ morale from all this budget uncertainty.”

The military has never suffered a funding lapse, but because Congress continues to pass continuing resolutions instead of a long-term budget, the military faces limits to its ability to end and start new projects.

“That creates doubt for the war-fighter, and that doesn’t help them do their job,” Lamborn told me, adding that although the DLA audit shows lax accounting, it doesn’t show evidence the Pentagon is wasting money.

Maybe not, but the bipartisan agreement adds a lot more money to the national debt, raising the ire of deficit hawks.

“We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do,” conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday.

World Relief World Relief Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks on Capitol Hill.

Evangelicals rally around DACA solution

Top evangelical groups on Wednesday united in an effort to urge lawmakers to protect vulnerable communities, including the nearly 700,000 young immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

World Relief penned a letter, published as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, urging Congress and the White House to quickly act to protect DACA recipients, as well as refugees, persecuted Christians, and immigrant families waiting for reunification.

“Our prayer is that these young people would be allowed to continue contributing to our society without fear of deportation,” the letter said of DACA recipients.

World Relief said it has signatures of support from more than 1,200 pastors representing all 50 states.

Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Angus King (I-Maine) joined World Relief for a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday to promote the letter, along with evangelical leaders like Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Lawmakers are grappling with the tension between protecting DACA recipients, something that has broad bipartisan support, and more partisan immigration priorities, including border security measures. Making sure President Donald Trump will accept the final package has complicated the process.

“As we’re here, speaking not in favor of one bill over the other, we say to our elected leaders: Do not simply kick this down the road,” Moore said. “Do not ignore these people created in the image of God. Personal ambition or political calculation should never pave over the lives of people.”

Congressional leaders announced a bipartisan budget agreement Wednesday and plan to take action on immigration in a separate bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to bring forward legislation next week that will include an open amendment process, allowing input from all lawmakers in a bid to negotiate a deal that can pass through a gridlocked Congress.

“I don’t want to make any promises but the U.S. Senate might actually be the U.S. Senate next week,” King said. “Hopefully what we’re going to end up with is amendments that can get 60 votes and we’ll have momentum going to the House and the president.” —E.W.

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. (left), talks about congressional harassment policies, while Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., looks on.

No more hush money

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to overhaul the process used to handle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.

The effort stems from months of reports about lawmakers harassing staff members and finding ways to keep complaints quiet. House members unanimously passed a measure that would implement broad reforms to the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act. The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers expect it to pass easily.

House lawmakers also passed a resolution, effective immediately, to prohibit using taxpayer dollars to settle internal harassment complaints.

“When news broke that there had been a series of sexual harassment settlements paid for by tax dollars, I think a lot of Americans, even by the low standards they have for this body, were shocked to hear that,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said on the House floor Tuesday. “Taxpayers should not bail members of Congress out for misconduct. And this bill fixes that and makes them personally liable.”

The outcry began in November after a report claimed Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., secretly settled a sexual harassment case for $27,000. Conyers resigned, but the stories of abuse kept coming. Most recently, Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., announced he would not seek reelection this year after coming under fire for settling a sexual harassment complaint with taxpayer money.

The movement to amend the outdated congressional process for harassment complaints gained momentum after Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., shared her personal stories of sexual harassment while working on Capitol Hill.

“For years, members of Congress have gotten away with truly egregious behavior by mistreating their staff,” she said. “The American public has made it clear that they have had enough. They expect Congress to lead, and for once we are.” —E.W.

Manchin decries toxic campaign tactic

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year, asked his colleagues not to campaign against other sitting senators this year. Manchin faces an uphill battle to get reelected as a Democrat in a state where President Donald Trump has the highest approval rating in the nation at 61 percent. Manchin pledged on the Senate floor Tuesday not to campaign against other senators and asked his fellow lawmakers to do the same. So far, no one has taken him up on his offer, but Manchin makes a valid argument, even if it seems self-serving. Lawmakers campaigning against each other while trying to pass legislation creates a toxic work environment. “Someone might be talking to me one day, but then that weekend, they might be in my state, campaigning against me,” Manchin said in a floor speech. “It won’t produce good results.” —E.W.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.

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  • Bob C
    Posted: Fri, 02/09/2018 10:06 am

    "David Norquist, the Pentagon’s top budget official, told Congress last month a complete audit of the Defense Department’s operations would require 1,200 auditors and cost about $1 billion."   

    I have no clue what an audit should cost but at $1 billion for 1,200 auditors, that cost is over $800,000 per auditor. That sounds high to me?  What does anybody else these think?

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Fri, 02/09/2018 04:58 pm

    Bob, just about everything the Pentagon does sounds high. The military-industrial complex sails along under the rubric of defending our women and children from the bad guys. To question the military-industrial complex is to be labeled un-American and thus to be un-American is to be un-Christian in the eyes of many.
    The upshot is that waste, overruns, and inflated costs is huge. Your example proves the point. Yes, an audit is needed, but it won't happen because the Pentagon and its corporate buddies are puppetmasters over Congress.

  • Vista48
    Posted: Sat, 02/10/2018 10:34 pm

    Bob, my first thought was that those numbers were off as well. I don't doubt that it would probably cost $1 billion, but considering the enormity of the task, I don't see how they could do it with only 1,200 auditors. With 1.3 million active duty troops in the 5 services and another 825,000 in guard/reserve components along with around 740,000 DoD civilians, all of their weapons systems, equipment, facilities, contract & procurement processes, storage & maintenance depots, etc., I don't see how it's possible. I know that $800 million sounds like a big number, but comparitively it would be like looking for pocket change buried under mountains of dollar bills. My logical mind tells me that it is not worth spending $1 billion in search of  $800 million that you probably can't recover even if you can figure out where it went. If anything, this illustrates why I don't want the government in charge of my healthcare.

  • CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Sat, 02/10/2018 12:22 pm

    It wouldn't surprise me if the "missing" money is the result of almost a decade of Continuing Resolutions that result in spending authority expring at times other than the end of a fiscal year, where there are regular procedures for accounting for unspent funds (the old "use it or lose it" scheme where senior managers would usually collect unspent funds from subordinate managers ahead of the end of the fiscal year and quickly reallocate and spend the funds before they expired), thus justifying that they needed all the funds they got and their budget shouldn't be cut.

  • Vista48
    Posted: Sat, 02/10/2018 09:26 pm

    Missing $800 million out of a budget of $549 billion is like losing 80 cents out of $550.00. If you've ever been to the Pentagon, you might easily get the feeling that they could go through that much in office supplies each year. Don't get me wrong - I hate government waste, but we should keep this in context. Congress goes through money like that with all the cognizance of a late morning snack.