Audit the Pentagon Now, Congressmen Say

Bipartisan bill would cut funds to unauditable programs.

Reps. Barbara Lee, right, and Michael Burgess say their bill would prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

Reps. Barbara Lee, right, and Michael Burgess say their bill would prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

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Move over, “Audit the Fed!”

An anti-war California liberal and a Texas conservative who once spoke approvingly about impeaching President Barack Obama are demanding an immediate audit of the Pentagon.

The bipartisan team is introducing legislation Thursday that would reduce funds to spending areas the Department of Defense says are unauditable.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Michael Burgess, R-Texas, will announce the "Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014" alongside Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. 

Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., is another original co-sponsor.

A 2013 version of the bill died in committee. But with an eye toward passage, the new edition imposes a 0.5 percent cut to unauditable spending areas, rather than the 5 percent reduction proposed last year.

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A law enacted in 1990 requires federal agencies to pass an annual audit, but progress toward that goal has been slow at the Pentagon, which receives hundreds of billions in funding each year.

“It’s not a draconian cut, it’s half of 1 percent,” Burgess tells U.S. News, brushing off hypothetical qualms about the effect on military readiness. “We’re not asking for much, we’re just asking for them to comply with a 25-year-old law.”

Burgess says most Americans probably don't know about the lack of oversight on defense spending.

“If you were an individual stockholder in a company, you’d expect a yearly report, you’d expect a profit-loss statement, you’d expect a pro forma future projection of earnings, but we don’t seem able to get the most basic data out of the Pentagon,” he says.

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In April the Government Accountability Office reported the Pentagon’s financial house remains in disorder, finding more than 1,000 weaknesses relating to accounting standards, management oversight and compliance with laws.

“Funds control weaknesses have prevented DOD from reporting reliable financial information, including information on the use of public funds, results of operations, and financial statements, and put DOD at risk of overobligating and overexpending its appropriations,” the GAO said.

“[B]ecause some of the corrective actions on long-standing funds control weaknesses are not expected to be completed until 2017, these weaknesses, until fully resolved, will continue to adversely affect DOD's ability to achieve its goals for financial accountability,” the government watchdog said.

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Robert Hale, undersecretary and chief financial officer for the Defense Department, told Stars and Stripes in May some department agencies won’t be ready to track current year spending by September, a deadline imposed by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"We understand, after 20 years of unauditable financial statements, Congress is skeptical,” Hale said. “Meeting this goal has been more of a challenge than I expected."

Burgess says an amendment successfully attached in May to the National Defense Authorization Act that would mandate an update on progress from the Pentagon is more likely to become law than the new stand-alone bill. The NDAA is awaiting Senate action.


on July 15, 2014: This article was updated to include comments from Rep. Burgess.