Pentagon Awash in Money Despite Serious Audit Problems

by Vins

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, and cumulatively this amounts to more than the total of the ten following countries’ combined defense budgets. Where does the money go? “The exact answer is a mystery,” writes Dave Gilson for Mother Jones. “That’s because the Pentagon’s books are a complete mess.” As the Government Accountability Office dryly notes, the Pentagon has “serious financial management problems” that make its financial statements “inauditable.”

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

Lack of budgetary accountability has led to risky investments by the Pentagon, including, for example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 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 analyzes 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 observes, military spending was “the glue holding the budget deal together.”

Source:

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)