Q&A: Pentagon’s Books
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: Why do you keep bookkeepers at the Pentagon on a short leash?
A: In an era of political divisiveness, this is an issue that bridges the divide among Iowans across the ideological spectrum. Iowans have every right and good reason to care about the management of their hard-earned tax dollars. As a fiscal conservative who grew up appreciating the value of a dollar, I’ve spent a lifetime pinching pennies to stretch limited resources. And I apply that tight-fisted fiscal stewardship to the federal government. Considering the size and scope of the vast federal bureaucracy, it’s a never-ending job that requires across-the-board vigilance from Congress and the good work of watchdogs and whistleblowers tracking federal spending to prevent taxpayer money from being squandered. Through the years I’ve exposed bureaucratic bloat, gross mismanagement and fraudulent wrongdoing as repeat culprits in my long-held crusade to root out waste, fraud and abuse. The Pentagon has had its share of all three blunders. Rooting out these pervasive problems requires transparency. Small business owners, family farmers and heads of household understand they must reconcile revenue coming in the door with expenses going out the door. It’s called making ends meet. Good recordkeeping allows employers to make payroll, pay suppliers and invest in their business. Moms and dads need to square up take-home pay to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and keep the lights on from month to month. As a taxpayer’s watchdog, I’ve learned the federal bureaucracy doesn’t pinch pennies the way Iowans do. And that’s likely because of the fiscal disconnect among Washington bureaucrats – they are spending someone else’s money. That’s why I work tirelessly to uphold my constitutional responsibility of checks and balances. As keepers of the purse strings, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 to ensure money was being spent as intended. It required each federal agency to produce an annual financial statement for an independent audit. Producing an auditable financial record would allow an independent review to determine if each respective government agency has earned a clean bill of fiscal health from year to year. The Department of Defense is the only agency that has failed to earn a clean opinion because it has failed to furnish a clean financial record. After endless delays, Congress in 2010 gave the Pentagon another seven years to comply. The new deadline is September 30, 2017.
Q: Why is it critical for the Pentagon to achieve compliance with federal bookkeeping laws?
A: It boils down to meeting fundamental constitutional and legal requirements. Securing a clean bill of fiscal health would signal that internal controls are working to detect and deter fraud and theft. It also would give the Pentagon a reality check about how much money is being spent and how much things actually cost. Recently when $125 billion of “administrative waste” was identified, it was disturbing to learn that senior defense officials in the previous administration allegedly wanted to sweep it under the rug. Let’s be clear: $125 billion is not pencil dust. It’s real money that effectively vanished into thin air without a trace. The broken accounting system at the Department of Defense requires strong leadership to steer the Pentagon’s fiscal ship in the right direction. Considering that $10 billion per year has been invested to modernize its accounting systems, we can’t afford to pour even more money into the same, failing programs. Policymakers can’t make good decisions with bad information. That’s why I joined a bipartisan letter, along with Senator Joni Ernst, requesting that Defense Secretary James Mattis step up and fix the wretched financial bookkeeping system at the Pentagon once and for all. At his Senate confirmation hearing, General Mattis assured lawmakers of his commitment to transparency. It’s time to stop passing the buck. The American people deserve to know the nation’s defense dollars are being spent as intended: to strengthen national security and support our men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way in service to our country each and every day.