Unaccountable: The high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping, Part 3

Scot J. Paltrow, Unaccountable: The high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping. Reuters, 23 December 2013. “Part 3, Broken Fixes: Why the Pentagon’s many campaigns to clean up its accounts are failing…. Time and again, programs to modernize Defense Department record-keeping have fallen prey to bureaucratic rivalry, resistance to change and a lack of consequences for failure.”  (Part 1 of this three-part series was published on 2 July 2013, and Part 2 was published on 18 November 2013.)

Excerpt from story:

It was the norm for the U.S. Defense Department’s effort in recent years to upgrade the way it keeps track of money, supplies and people. Burdened with thousands of old, error-filled record-keeping systems – estimates range from 2,100 to more than 5,000 of them – the Pentagon is unable to account for itself, and thus for roughly half of all congressionally approved annual federal spending….

Reuters has found that success is likely to remain elusive unless the Pentagon can change the way it goes about fixing its accounting problems. Interviews with scores of current and former defense officials, contractors and Pentagon watchers, as well as a review of dozens of reports by oversight agencies, show that the Pentagon is continually thwarted by a lack of accountability for failures, rivalry among and within various branches of the department, resistance to change, and an incentive to spend.

With its efforts to build reliable accounting systems in disarray, the Pentagon isn’t likely to meet a congressionally mandated 2017 deadline to be audit-ready. All other federal agencies are audited annually, in accordance with a 1990 law, and with rare exceptions, they pass every year. The Pentagon alone has never been audited, leaving roughly $8.5 trillion in taxpayer dollars unaccounted for since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited. [muckraker farmers’ emphasis]

In previous installments of this series, Reuters has exposed the staggering costs and harmful effects of the Defense Department’s chronic accounting dysfunction. Persistent pay errors hound soldiers, sapping troop morale, while an impenetrable tangle of logistics and personnel systems can hinder commanders’ ability to know who and what are available for deployment. And the lack of reliable accounts – Pentagon staff routinely insert billions of dollars a year of false accounting entries to cover missing information – conceals huge sums lost to waste, fraud and mismanagement….