Based on the latest revelations from federal investigators, the Pentagon all too often seems to be spending cash like a carefree heir to a family fortune -- except in this case, taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko has called out Department of Defense (DoD) leadership for renting “specially furnished” private villas in Afghanistan and hiring contractors to provide round-the-clock “security” as well as 3-star “food services” to the tune of $150 million.
This comes on the heels of another report, also prompted by Sopko, that the Pentagon spent $43 million on a gas station there that should have cost approximately $500,000. That’s the difference between budgeting for one new car and instead purchasing more than 100.
Even more incredible is that the Pentagon offered bogus explanations about how the money was spent on private villas and the gas station.
When asked why they required private villas with flat-screen TVs and personal catering instead of living on secured military bases that provide housing and food, officials claimed “the goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.” They failed to address the fact that the officials did have armed support 24/7 while at the villas and paid contractors $57 million to provide it. To quote Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Iowa Democrat drops bid to challenge Grassley after death of nephew Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (R-Iowa) that “sounds like U.S. Grade A baloney.”
And when asked about the gas station, the Pentagon claimed that it simply could not provide any information at all -- not the cost, planning, or implementation -- about any aspect of the project.
Despite these, and other far more outrageous examples of waste and abuse, the Pentagon insists it needs more money from taxpayers’ pockets. A number in Congress and running for president want to fulfill their request. So what do you do with someone who spends away the inheritance and keeps asking others for more? Well for starters, you certainly don’t give them more money, no questions asked; you go back and find out how all that money was actually spent.
In other words, you do an audit.
The Pentagon is the single largest government bureaucracy and has been cited multiple times -- even in the absence of an official audit -- for grossly irresponsible expenditures. Spending money inefficiently on weapons systems and programs that aren’t needed or that don’t work only makes us less safe, by diverting taxpayer dollars that could otherwise be spent on useful programs. As it stands, right now the Pentagon might be buying power drills to mix cake batter and we wouldn’t know it.
Yet, a top official at the Pentagon sought to downplay the necessity of an audit, saying that overseeing the books “will never be the top mission of the department” because DoD’s first concern is to “defend the nation.” Plus, military financial systems are difficult to overhaul and reform in the first place. The trouble is, how the Pentagon tracks its spending – on its supply chains, procurement, personnel, training, and much more – is related directly to its effectiveness in protecting America. When resources are misallocated, brave service people don’t get what they need, where they need it, when it matters most. And of course, it’s never easy to bring transparency or accountability to any large entity like a government agency. In the case of the Pentagon, however, making an effort at reform could not be more urgent: lives may be at stake. Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Democrats push tax credits to bolster clean energy Five reasons for concern about Democrats' drug price control plan MORE (D-Ore.) is already pressing for an audit of the Pentagon in order to combat similar “unacceptable boondoggle[s].” The Audit the Pentagon bill is so bipartisan that Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzProposal to move defense bill running into new GOP objections GOP anger with Fauci rises Senate nearing deal on defense bill after setback MORE (R-Texas) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSymone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal Postal Service expansion into banking services misguided MORE (I-Vt.) -- who are probably as opposite on the political spectrum as one can get -- are cosponsors.
As the old saying goes: waste not, want not. If an audit can help to keep the Pentagon from willfully wasting taxpayer dollars, it won’t be left wanting so much more.
Sepp is president of the non-profit, non-partisan National Taxpayers Union.