Will there ever be accountability in the Department of Defense?

Accountability is something that gets thrown around by conservatives on a regular basis to serve their ideology.  No Child Left Behind, well I personally think this law is a high stakes testing program which serves the ideology of trying to hold unionized teachers “accountable” because they are the problem with education.

But when it comes to the military, our Department of Defense (DOD) the word accountability comes as easily as the Fonz saying he was wrong.  You just never hear it.

For example, during the November 6, 2003 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) highlight this in his opening comments (PDF).

An investigation recently completed by the General Accounting Office found that almost three-quarters of DOD’s first and business class airline travel was improper. This accounts for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars inappropriately spent by DOD. In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, DOD spent almost $124 million on over 68,000 premium airline tickets. Among DOD’s 28 most frequent first and business class flyers, GAO found problems with almost all of the justifications for premium class travel. This lack of accountability cannot be tolerated. Under government travel regulations, government employees are also allowed to upgrade their accommodations by using their frequent flyer miles or paying the difference themselves.

Let me outline some of the most egregious and outrageous abuses of the system. A DOD employee flew first class on a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, for $3,253, compliments of the Federal Government. A coach fare for the same trip would have cost $238, a difference of $3,015.

Another employee flew business class on a round-trip ticket from Washington, DC, to Taiwan for $4,319 when a coach fare ticket for the same trip would have cost $1,450, a difference of $2,869.

A family of four relocated from London and Honolulu and flew first and business class nonstop at a cost to the taxpayers of $20,943. Had they simply made the effort to reduce costs and follow travel procedures, they would have saved the taxpayers $18,443.

Other cases involved a traveler who took 14 trips at a cost of $88,000 to taxpayers [average of $6285.71 per trip] because he inappropriately claimed that he needed to be upgraded to first class and business class because of a medical condition.

In each of these and dozens of other cases, it appears that travel orders were either not authorized or not justified and premium class tickets should not have been issued.

It is amazing that the GAO could even document this waste, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported in May 2003 that the DOD Inspector General couldn’t account for $1 trillion, yes that is a “t” not a “b”.

Though Defense has long been notorious for waste, recent government reports suggest the Pentagon’s money management woes have reached astronomical proportions. A study by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that the Pentagon couldn’t properly account for more than a trillion dollars in monies spent. A GAO report found Defense inventory systems so lax that the U.S. Army lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units.

And I thought it was pretty funny last week when my co-worker said she lost her sewing machine, not exactly a small object, but quite a bit smaller than a tank or airplane.  Guess it wasn’t that funny in comparison.

Maybe we need to start with penalties, a sort of accountability, to make the DOD get it’s financial house in order.  As these quotes from an article in the Defense Industry Daily point out, there really is now way but up to go for DOD and accounting.

Rep. Todd Platts [R-PA] was quoted as saying that

“The [US Department of Defense] for more than five decades has just kind of layered system on top of system on top of system, and not been serious until recent years that this is not an efficient way to protect against waste, fraud and abuse or in assuring the most effective and efficient systems are in place for those serving in harm’s way.”

That is a Republican saying that.

As Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information, puts it:

“It’s not that DOD flunks audits, it’s that DOD’s books cannot be audited. DOD aspires for the position where it flunks an audit.”

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations, oh wait that is just for schools.  I mean an improvement would be having a sufficient financial system that could be audited, and failure would still be fine because they would have something that could be audited.

I guess looking at the inability to account for money or equipment should have prepared us for the waste and undocumented expenditures in Iraq as reported in the Christian Science Monitor in March 2007.

Overall, the Defense Contract Audit Agency has found $4.9 billion in overpricing and waste in Iraq contracts since 2003. US auditors have identified another $5.1 billion in expenses charged without documentation.

It is time to hold the military spending accountable.  Actions or inactions should have consequences, and the military should not be exempt from them.  Any penalty should shift the appropriated funds to social services funds that have been cut.

-Josh

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