Amid military budget fight, legislators call for Pentagon audit

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) just completed a four-state tour with fellow Senate Republicans to discuss the dangers of sequestration defense cuts, but this week she also signed on to a bill calling for an audit of the dense and inscrutable Pentagon budget.

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) introduced the ???Audit the Pentagon Act,??? and Ayotte joined Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in supporting the legislation, which would work to ensure Defense Department compliance with financial reporting requirements already on the books.

The bill would deploy a carrot-and-stick method, offering the Pentagon incentives including more independent authority to reprogram funds and ending certain reporting requirements, while barring the acquisition of any new major weapons systems until an audit can take place. It would also create a Chief Management Officer position to oversee the audit and transfer the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to the U.S. treasury.

Coburn communications director John Hart told Human Events that while the bill’s author thought the mindless off-the-top cuts of sequestration were like ???mowing the flowerbeds,??? he believed that rooting out inefficiencies and waste in military spending could strengthen national security.

???I think regardless of what the Pentagon budget should be, there???s no good argument for not knowing how the Pentagon spends its money,??? Hart said.

Though Pentagon officials have been working toward audit readiness since the 1990s, Comptroller Robert Hale told a panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee last July that they shouldn???t expect the Defense Department to be completely prepared until 2017.

???We obligate an average of $2 billion to $3 billion every business day and handle hundreds of thousands of payment transactions,??? he said. ???…Given our size and mission requirements, we are not able to deploy the vast numbers of accountants that would be required to fully meet audit standards.???

Legislators said the prospect of more than $500 billion in cuts to Defense beginning on the first of next year gave the issue a new urgency.

???In light of our nation???s current fiscal challenges, creating a culture of fiscal efficiency at the Department of Defense is more important than ever, and this bill is the first step to ushering in more responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars at the Pentagon,??? Cornyn said in a statement.

???There???s never a legitimate argument against knowing where taxpayer money is going,??? Hart said. ???It???s really about giving congress and the American people the tools to direct money and correct priorities.???

Hart said the bill had been introduced before August recess to give legislators a chance to build support for a Pentagon audit in their districts. While many conservatives in Congress are protective about military funds, particularly after Obama???s FY 2013 defense budget proposal sliced off $487 billion over the next decade, the bill???s author is hopeful that the bill???s push for accountability will win support on both sides of the aisle.

???In short, this bill helps the Pentagon help itself.  Passing an audit is a critical step that will protect vital priorities and help the Pentagon comply with current law and our Constitution,??? Coburn said in a statement.

A call to Ayotte???s office was not immediately returned.