#2 Over Six Trillion Dollars in Unaccountable Army Spending

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

According to a July 2016 report by the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (DoDIG), over the past two decades the US Army has accumulated $6.5 trillion in expenditures that cannot be accounted for, because two government offices—the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army and the DoD’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service—“did not prioritize correcting the system deficiencies that caused errors . . . and did not provide sufficient guidance for supporting system-generated adjustments.” In the bureaucratic language of the report, the expenditures themselves are referred to as “unsupported adjustments” and the lack of complete and accurate records of them are described as “material weakness.” In other words, as Dave Lindorff reported, the DoD “has not been tracking or recording or auditing all of the taxpayer money allocated by Congress—what it was spent on, how well it was spent, or where the money actually ended up.”

In 1996, Congress enacted legislation that required all government agencies—including not only the Department of Defense but also the federal government’s departments of education, veterans affairs, and housing and urban development, for instance—to undergo annual audits. As Thomas Hedges reported for the Guardian in March 2017, “the Pentagon has exempted itself without consequence for 20 years now, telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that collecting and organizing the required information for a full audit is too costly and time-consuming.” (For Project Censored’s previous coverage of the Pentagon’s “inauditable” budget, see “Pentagon Awash in Money Despite Serious Audit Problems,” Censored 2015, pp. 59–60.)

As Lindorff wrote, in fiscal year 2015 total federal discretionary spending—which includes everything from education, to housing and community development, to Medicare and other health programs—amounted to just over $1.1 trillion, and the $6.5 trillion in unaccountable Army expenditures represents approximately fifteen years’ worth of military spending.

The DoD Inspector General issued its report at a time when, in Lindorff’s words, “politicians of both major political parties are demanding accountability for every penny spent on welfare,” and they have also been engaged in pervasive efforts “to make teachers accountable for student ‘performance.’” Yet, he observed, “the military doesn’t have to account for any of its trillions of dollars of spending . . . even though Congress fully a generation ago passed a law requiring such accountability.”

Mandy Smithberger, director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight, told Lindorff, “Accounting at the Department of Defense is a disaster, but nobody is screaming about it because you have a lot of people in Congress who believe in more military spending, so they don’t really challenge military spending.” Similarly, Rafael DeGennaro, director of the Audit the Pentagon coalition, told the Guardian, “Over the last 20 years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when an audit would be completed . . . Meanwhile, Congress has more than doubled the Pentagon’s budget.” Notably, since 2013 Congressional representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced bipartisan legislation that would penalize the DoD financially for failing to complete its required audit. One of the act’s cosponsors, Michael Burgess, a Republican representative for Texas, told the Guardian that the Pentagon “should have been audit-ready decades ago.”

As Censored 2018 goes to print, the next deadline for a DoD audit is scheduled for September 2017.

Corporate media have not covered the $6.5 trillion in unaccountable Army expenditures, as documented in the July 2016 DoDIG study, and reported by Dave Lindorff. In December 2016, the Washington Post published an article about a “buried” January 2015 DoD report, which had found “$125 billion in administrative waste” in Pentagon business operations. As the Post reported, “After the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.” The Huffington Post and TomDispatch cross-posted William Hartung’s May 2016 piece, “The Pentagon’s War on Accountability,” which made many of the same points raised by Lindorff, but did not address the $6.5 trillion in unaccountable Army expenditures. CounterPunch and OpEdNews reposted Lindorff’s original report.

Dave Lindorff, “Ignoring the Pentagon’s Multi-Trillion-Dollar Accounting Error,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), September 2, 2016, http://fair.org/home/ignoring-the-pentagons-multi-trillion-dollar-accounting-error/.

Dave Lindorff, “The Pentagon Money Pit: $6.5 Trillion in Unaccountable Army Spending, and No DOD Audit for the Past Two Decades,” This Can’t Be Happening!, August 17, 2016, http://thiscantbehappening.net/node/3262.

Thomas Hedges, “The Pentagon Has Never been Audited. That’s Astonishing,” Guardian, March 20, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/20/pentagon-never-audited-astonishing-military-spending.

Student Researcher: Elsa Denis (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)