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GAO: Pentagon should explain why it needs $500B in taxes annually

GAO: Pentagon should explain why it needs $500B in taxes annually

The Department of Defense soaks up more than half of all the United States’ discretionary spending — and that doesn’t even take into account the off-the-books spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — but all that money can’t buy a clear purpose or mission statement.

The Government Accountability Office slammed the department in an audit released last week for ignoring “most of the statutorily required elements” in a once-every-four-years report to Congress on the department’s internal view of its goals, missions and roles.  The department’s report to Congress “was lacking key information” including plans for assessing how well it’s performing its missions, information about who would be responsible for such assessments and how long it would take to conduct them.

In other words, the Pentagon couldn’t give Congress some of the most basic of answers about why it swallows nearly $500 billion of American taxes annually.

What the Pentagon did say is it thinks giving Congress that information to be duplicative and unnecessary, which the GAO disputes.

By relying on other, less comprehensive, reports to Congress, the Pentagon “has limited assurance that it has fully identified all possible cost savings that can be achieved through the elimination of unnecessary duplication and that it has positioned itself to report clear and sufficient information,” the audit concludes.

And it’s not as if the Pentagon is a model of efficiency when it comes to the spending of taxpayer dollars.

This is, after all, the same department that wasted $100 million on unused flight tickets in 2013 without even trying to get refunds, according to a collection of wasteful government spending indexed annually by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma.

It’s the same department that bought $500 million worth of military transport plans, then left them sitting on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the Afghan Security Forces ran out of money to maintain them in working order. That only accounts for a small part of the estimated $25 billion in equipment left behind in Afghanistan because it was deemed too expensive to ship back to the homeland.

“We are very good at getting in, but not so good at getting out,” Lt. General Raymond Mason, one of the Army’s top staffers in charge of logistics, told National Defense Magazine last year.

It’s the same department that blew $34 billion building a brand new, state-of-the-art training facility in Afghanistan — and continued building it even after the Marine Corps said they would be unable to use it — that never housed or trained a single American soldier and will now be likely torn down. It can’t be handed over to the Afghan military because all the electricity in the building is set to American voltage standards and won’t power Afghan equipment, according to another report from Coburn’s office.

And on and on.

Without a comprehensive view of what the department is doing and plans to do in the future, there will be gaps in oversight that can lead to costly duplicative efforts or the outright waste of tax dollars, the GAO warns.

“Given the complex security challenges and increased fiscal pressures that the department faces, such assessments are important to help the department prioritize human capital and other investment needs across the many components within the department,” auditors wrote.

History suggests there will always be a high level of waste within America’s multi-layered, overlapping military and defense programs. But it would be nice if the Pentagon could at least give Congress evidence it’s trying to understand its purpose for existing and the limits to what it can, or should, do with all the money it gets each year.

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