The Department of Defense has moved on from the $500 hammers and $600 toilet seats that plagued its acquisitions in the 1980s. But other waste is slowly creeping into the balance books with a 21st Century twist.
An overreliance on contractors and lack of oversight has prompted the Pentagon to waste more than $23 billion so far this year, according to a senior defense official.
The office of the Inspector General at the Pentagon found billions in spending it believes the department could be using more efficiently for this fiscal year alone. This is a sharp rise from the $2.9 billion in waste it found for fiscal year 2012, due largely to a more than $22 billion Marine Corps investment in helicopters the inspectors believe is not justified.
This waste comes at a time when Congress has forced the Pentagon to cut billions from its budget, and subjected it to the across-the-board mandatory cuts known as sequestration.
"In this age of shrinking budgets, the [Defense] Department needs to do better," said the senior Defense Department official, who spoke with a group of reporters last week on the condition of anonymity.
Inspections of military warehouses, largely those operated by the department-wide Defense Logistics Agency, have uncovered gross negligence and waste, the official said. Investigators found stockpiles of 38-years worth of spare parts for the UH-60 Blackhawk – a helicopter that first flew in 1974 which likely will not be in service for anywhere near that time – and whole warehouses filled with seats for the Stryker combat vehicle.
The Inspector General's office says these types of combat vehicles usually only need spare parts for roughly five years.
Investigators also uncovered an instance in fiscal year 2011 where the Army was purchasing coin-sized rubber roller wheels used to load cargo for the inflated price of $1,678 each from Boeing. They are each valued at only $7.71.
Service branches often cite backlogs at DLA and go straight to the contractor to make purchases, the official says, adding that the branches should be communicating better on acquisitions to avoid this kind of gouging.
At a time of sequestration and tightening purse strings, "there is a great desire to be prudent," says the official. "It's making people upset."