It’s understandable for any organization as enormous as the Pentagon to lose track of a few dollars here and there. Overseeing all financial aspects of the Department of Defense must be a gargantuan task.
A certain amount of money is expected to slip through the cracks.
But over the past few months, the Pentagon has seen a number of financial scandals. Money that was either misspent or lost altogether.
In March, the DOD was unable to account for $500 million in military aid to Yemen, sparking fears that weapons could have been obtained by terrorist groups. In May, the Pentagon ceased an investigation into who was responsible for the spending $36 million on an unused Afghan military base. And in April, an internal report uncovered $1.3 billion in "lost" Afghan reconstruction aid.
Add to that the latest fiscal humiliation: the Marine Corps’ inability to account for $800 million.
The news follows a report conducted by the Government Accountability Office, which was released last Tuesday. It found a number of undocumented transactions, unbalanced accounts, and unprofessional record-keeping, which all runs counter to a Congressional order to make the DOD fully auditable by 2017.
"Defense dishes out over $500 billion a year yet still can’t tell the people where all the money is going," said Senator Charles Grassley after reading the report, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The missing funds are all the more baffling given the fact that the Pentagon just spent $32 million hiring an auditing firm to look into the Marine Corps’ finances. That audit, conducted by Grant Thornton LLP, concluded that all Marine Corps spending and revenue was accounted for.
"We are confident that our work complied with all professional standards," Michele Mazur, a spokesperson for Grant Thornton, told CPI by email.
But Senator Grassley suggested that the relationship between Grant Thornton and the Pentagon "was far too cozy."
"These actions appear to show how undue influence and bias trumped objectivity and independence," he said.
Even more baffling, the audit came after the Defense Department spent $15 billion on new accounting software, which doesn’t appear to be working.
Included in the GAO report are written statements from the DOD’s financial officials. Ann-Cecile McDermott, fiscal director for the Marine Corps, acknowledged that “much work remains,” but disagreed that there were “significant” lapses in finance accountability.
Mark Easton, the Pentagon’s deputy chief financial officer, said he did not disagree with findings, but did criticize the GAO report’s failure to recognize “many of the corrections and improvements already made” by the Marine Corps.
Of course, a number of projects that are on the Pentagon’s books have proven to be money pits. In April, Congress cut funds for the development of the next generation stealth bomber, which is quickly exceeding the $1 billion price tag. There is also, of course, the $400 billion cost of developing the beleaguered F-35.
And then there’s the $41.6 million the Department of Defense spent on Viagra in 2014, which could be a good place to force cuts if the Marines are going to pay back all that money they lost.