WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and defense experts proposed on Wednesday a slew of reforms to military spending, hoping to find a balance between military preparedness and efficiency.
While it is important for the U.S. military to be prepared for any unforeseen conflicts that may arise, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), speaking at an event co-hosted by Concerned Veterans for America and the Weekly Standard, said there are many opportunities for the Defense Department to operate more efficiently.
As examples, Coburn noted the consolidation of the Air Force’s operations at its three strategic depots over the past 18 months, which he said would save $1.6 billion, and Army requests for $2.5 billion for equipment needs that can be met for $100 million.
“The problem is culture and the problem is leadership,” Coburn said in regards to inefficiency in military spending.
He said the top generals running the Air Force depots changed the culture of the organization by changing how they run the depots, which resulted in over a billion dollars in savings outside of the requirements under sequestration.
Coburn said these generals bought into an idea that culture has to be centered on “what is the goal and how to get it done efficiently and effectively and below budget.”
“If you look what is in front of us in terms of our finances and debt, it’s gonna be even more important that we get value for everything we do,” Coburn said. “We need to have the strongest, best, most flexible, and most efficient military in the world to be able to carry out a cogent foreign policy. We also need to be able to afford it.”
Coburn and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) introduced a bill Tuesday aimed to push the Pentagon toward being ready for a full financial audit by restricting spending on major weapons programs if the Defense Department fails to get its books in order.
“We know that about $20 billion a year, the military doesn’t have any idea where they spend it,” Coburn said. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. It’s impossible.”
Under the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013, if the Defense Department fails to obtain a clean audit opinion by 2018, the military services would be barred from spending money to fund new major acquisition programs beyond what is knows as “Milestone B.” This means the services would not be able to implement the production and deployment phase of a particular defense system.
In 2009, Congress mandated the Defense Department pass a financial audit by the end of fiscal year 2017. The Pentagon has vowed to become “audit-ready” before the deadline.
The Pentagon, which is responsible for more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending, has never achieved a full financial audit. The Pentagon’s financial management has landed on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk List every year since the mid-1990s. GAO has classified the Defense Department’s financial management as having a “high risk, of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.”
“The idea under the Constitution was that Congress is to appropriate money and the agencies are to give an account,” Coburn said. “The Pentagon can’t give an account on where it spends its money.”
“There are 7,087 auditors at the Pentagon right now, 10,846 accountants, 15,285 financial administrators, 2,624 payroll officials. That would seem to be enough staff to audit the Pentagon,” he added.