Last week, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense rolled out a series of tweets revealing wasteful spending and poor accounting on the part of the United States Army. Such waste may be taking up to 15% of the total defense budget alone. While Army waste at such a scale should come as a shock to many, it should not come as a surprise: Thanks to "national security" reasons, the annual defense budget only gets pitiful scrutiny. If nothing else, the Inspector General's exposure of poor Army accounting demonstrates a need to hold the Defense Department accountable for how it spends its money.
In its full report, the Inspector General was examining the Army's business practices for Acquire-to-Retire (A2R), the process of which it manages its property and equipment. The Army, in an attempt to modernize its accounting program, created the all-digital GFEBS (General Fund Enterprise Business System) to save money and make it easier to keep track of property. The Army spent $814 million on GFEBS to make it work. However, GFEBS proved to be unreliable and opaque to Army personnel, denying them basic information on costs and land usage. The program resulted in further Army waste.
To give an example of the waste that came from inaccurate reporting from GFEBS, four Army activities overstated their land use by more than 200,000 acres, the size of New York City. The Army was unable to effectively create processes in GFEBS that would do things as basic as recording construction costs, thus resulting in the Defense Department uncovering $10 billion in extra construction.
In order to make up for the mistakes, Defense Department and Army accountants had to make more than $100 billion in adjustments just to make sure the rolls were properly audited. Those adjustments make up nearly half of the Army's budget, and nearly 1/7th of the entire defense budget. Such blatant accounting errors were often the result of Army personnel not knowing the right information, or not having the means to put in the correct information.
One would think that, with such gross financial mismanagement of what is part of 20% of the federal budget, the Defense Department would be more open about their business practices for better scrutiny and less government waste. However, the Defense Department, like Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security, remain politically untouchable to even the largest fiscal hawks. Questioning the defense budget is limited to where the money is spent, rather than how the money is handled, which is a cheap way out. If the military budget were held up to greater scrutiny and shown to be wasteful, as was demonstrated by the Army last week, the end result would be less Defense spending, all without harming the overall mission of the military.