FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Don’t Ask the Pentagon Where Its Money Goes

President Barack Obama proudly signed the law that repealed the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, freeing lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans (although not trans people) to openly serve in the military four years ago.

But when it comes to budgeting, the concept lingers on. “Don’t ask us how we spend money,” the Pentagon basically says. “Because we can’t really tell you.”

Every taxpayer, business, and government agency in America is supposed to be able to pass a financial audit by the feds, every year. It’s the law, so we do our duty. There’s one exception: the Pentagon.

Year after year, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) declares the Pentagon budget to be un-auditable. In 2013, for example, the GAO found that the Pentagon consistently fails to control its costs, measure its performance, or prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse.

Congress thankfully, did give the Pentagon a deadline to get itself in better financial shape — 25 years ago. Taxpayers are still waiting.

The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires every federal agency to pass a routine financial audit not once, not twice, but every year. All the other agencies do it.

What does the Pentagon deliver instead? Promises. The Defense Department always swears it will conduct an audit — and then requests five more years to do it.

How has Congress responded? By doubling the Pentagon’s budget between 2000 and 2010. Many members are now railing against “cuts” that will still keep military spending at stratospheric levels over the next decade.

How bad could things be? Well, the most recent scandals may help answer this question.

In Afghanistan, the Air Force bought the Afghan government 20 Italian transport planes for $486 million. When it found out the planes didn’t work, it crushed them into scrap metal, recouping just $32,000.

Other examples of disastrous post-9/11 spending abound. In his new book Pay Any Price, New York Times investigative journalist James Risen reported that more than $1 billion in funds intended for Iraq’s reconstruction may have wound up in a Lebanese bunker. Or not. U.S. investigators couldn’t get to the bottom of that one.

Former Pentagon boss Robert M. Gates once described the U.S. military as a semi-feudal system — “an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures, and measure results relative to the department’s overall priorities.”

Gates also complained that it was nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to basic questions, such as “How much money did you spend?” and “How many people do you have?”

Congress, charged with oversight, is afraid of stepping on the Pentagon’s powerful toes. The House did, to its credit, pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act a few months ago that would require the Pentagon to rank its departments in order of how auditable they are.

The amendment, however, lacks any penalties for recalcitrant divisions.

A bipartisan group led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Michael Burgess (R-TX), and Dan Benishek (R-MI) wants to push the Pentagon further. Their Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014 (HR5126) calls for cutting any “un-auditable” Pentagon operation by one-half of 1 percent. It will be an uphill battle to get majority support for even that slap on the wrist, given how lawmakers have failed to get the Pentagon to carry through with the audit they first demanded more than 20 years ago.

I find this particularly amazing due to my own personal experience as the co-founder of a small and scrappy feminist peace group called CODEPINK. In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service singled us out for an audit. We underwent a tedious, energy-draining accounting of every dollar spent and complied with every bit of minutiae the IRS requested. It wasn’t fun, but it was our duty and we did it — and passed. And every year we’re prepared to do it again.

If CODEPINK can handle an audit, why can’t the Pentagon? It’s high time the Defense Department fulfilled its commitment to account for every taxpayer dollar in its $555-billion budget.

Medea Benjamin is a cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace. Follow @wardollarshome for regular news and opinion updates.

This column was syndicated by Other Words.  

More articles by:

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail