House panel finds DOD audit preparation making some progress

The Defense Department’s complex finances have long been a sore subject in Washington, and a full audit for the Pentagon has remained elusive.

“I don’t want to sound like an apologist for the Department of Defense — they should have gotten this done a long time ago,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the Armed Services audit panel, said Tuesday at a briefing on the report. “But where we are today, moving forward to 2014 and 2017, I am confident they’re on that path.”

Among the issues that still need to be dealt with are better training for the Pentagon’s financial management workforce, better management across organizations with the Defense Department and a continued commitment to an audit.

Conaway said that Panetta’s prioritizing of preparing for an audit has been an "unprecedented" step toward actually getting the Pentagon’s finances in line. He said that the commitment must remain in place, particularly as the Pentagon begins to make $487 billion in cuts and finances become even more important.

In fiscal year 2011, the Pentagon conducted 172 million transactions, the report said. Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said at Tuesday’s hearing on the report that such a complicated institution could make a small percentage of errors that still add up to a big dollar figure in incorrect finances.

Hale said one thing that would help the Pentagon get its finances in order is more certainty from Congress. He told the committee that the threats of government shutdown and repeated continuing resolutions instead of a full budget has “drained valuable time” from many initiatives in the department, including audit readiness.