- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

There has always been wasteful spending at the Pentagon, and there are legitimate concerns that prosecuting the war on terror is compounding the problem. Defense hawks shouldn’t shy from saying it; hardly anyone disputes that billions are wasted each year at the Department of Defense.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in April that the Pentagon’s waste-prone management “continues to result in billions in annual waste, as well as reduced efficiencies and effectiveness.” That waste is the result of “weaknesses [that] cut across all of DOD’s major business areas.” Of the 25 areas of government that the GAO designates as “high-risk” for waste, 14 of them were found in the Pentagon. As Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker put it in testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “DOD is one of the largest and most complex organizations in the world to effectively manage.” This is a serious understatement; in reality, DOD is the single largest and the single most complex organization in the world, period.

The principals in the Bush administration are well aware of this; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld estimates that the Pentagon could save as much as 5 percent of its annual budget by improving business operations. Why hasn’t it been done? The answer is complicated. It owes partly to bureaucratic inertia, partly to congressional inaction and partly to the Bush administration’s inability to make real progress streamlining national-security spending.

All these are reasons that Dan Crippen, President Reagan’s chief domestic policy advisor from 1987-89 and the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1999 to 2003, advocates on the opposite page saving $137.5 million in audit money currently on the congressional chopping block, and applying a 1990 law, the Chief Financial Officers Act, to the Pentagon. Back then, this law was considered to be a landmark step toward a responsibly managed government. As the GAO put it in late 1991: The CFO act “marks the beginning of what promises to be a new era not only in federal management and accountability, but also in efforts to gain financial control of government operations.” The GAO’s words seem a little airy these days, although clearly some progress on internal controls and oversight has been made in parts of the government since then.

Other agencies have complied with the law. The Pentagon wants to but lawmakers are threatening to cut the necessary funds. Congressional bean counters know that five percent of the $419.2 billion defense budget is small compared to the burgeoning spending on such domestic programs as Medicaid, Medicare and public welfare. Lawmakers need to give Mr. Rumsfeld the resources he needs to comply with the law.•

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