Senator rips Pentagon's efforts to track spending

The chairman of an influential Senate panel on Tuesday harshly criticized the Defense Department for shoddy bookkeeping practices that he said make it nearly impossible to identify wasteful spending.

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“We can’t effectively identify areas to reduce spending if we don’t know how much, and where, we’re spending that money in the first place,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said during a hearing focused on improving the Pentagon’s financial management.

The Pentagon is working toward a goal set by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to be able to perform a partial financial audit of its more than $700 billion in spending by the end of 2014. Thursday’s hearing was held to give military officials a chance to update lawmakers on how that effort is going.

In his opening statement, Carper cited a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that concluded the DOD had spent millions on “wasteful ammunitions purchases." He also highlighted figures, provided to the panel last year, that showed the department had spent $754 million on items the “military services simply did not need.”

“This clearly is an unacceptable situation. And these are just the problems we know about,” Carper said. “In all likelihood, the poor state of the department’s books masks even more instances of waste and fraud.”

Ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also faulted the Pentagon’s bookkeeping practices, saying that “effort sometimes isn’t enough.”

He also slammed the department for being on the GAO’S “high-risk” list since 1995.

The Oklahoma lawmaker said the department being able to audit itself is of “paramount importance” because it would, in part, boost congressional oversight of Pentagon accounts.

Carper praised the Marine Corps, which achieved a “clean opinion” on a portion of its fiscal 2012 books, and the Homeland Security Department for obtaining a clean audit in 2013.

“The key question is whether the entire Department of Defense is learning enough, and fast enough, from those examples,” he said.