12. Pentagon Awash in Money Despite Serious Audit Problems

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Congress is expanding the Pentagon’s 2014 budget by $32 billion. The Pentagon currently receives over $600 billion, when its current budget is combined with supplemental war funding. One out of every five US tax dollars is spent on defense, cumulatively more than the total of the next ten countries’ defense budgets combined. Where does the money go? “The exact answer is a mystery,” wrote Dave Gilson for Mother Jones. “That’s because the Pentagon’s books are a complete mess.” As the Government Accountability Office dryly noted, the Pentagon has “serious financial management problems” that render its financial statements “inauditable.”

Despite a 1997 requirement that federal agencies submit to annual audits, the Pentagon, Gilson reported, claims it will not “achieve audit readiness” until 2017.

Lack of budgetary accountability has led to risky investments by the Pentagon, Gilson reported, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for example. As Gilson summarizes, the F-35 program is “years behind schedule, hugely over budget, and plagued with problems that have earned them a reputation as the biggest defense boondoggle in history.”

The Mother Jones report also analyzed how congressional interests and coalitions contributed to the protection of the Pentagon budget, even at a time when Congress was imposing spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs. Though fiscal conservatives in Congress favored defense cuts (like their liberal dove counterparts), they aligned with conservative hawks to impose social cuts, rather than reduce the Pentagon’s budget. Similarly, those conservative hawks found allies among liberal hawks, who were not supportive of domestic cuts, but also wanted more money for military spending. As Gilson observed, military spending was “the glue holding the budget deal together.”


Dave Gilson, “Can’t Touch This,” Mother Jones, December 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/pentagon-budget-deal-charts-cuts.

Student Researcher: Jeannette Acevedo (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)