While speaking to Air Force Academy graduates last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis made a rather frank admission, acknowledging that he “cannot right now look you in the eye and say that we can tell you that every penny in the past has been spent in a strategically sound manner.” Mattis then reminded the audience that for the first time in its history, the Pentagon will be conducting a complete audit.
Thank goodness. In recent years, huge project overruns have become the norm. The F-35 jet will now likely top $1 trillion dollars in total costs, while America’s shiny new Ford-class aircraft carrier is already receiving a $120 million overhaul to correct “deficiencies.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon was caught red-handed burying a report that they commissioned from McKinsey, identifying as much as $125 billion in bureaucratic waste.
This is a huge problem for two reasons. First, American taxpayer dollars are being wasted. Even if you support high military spending, you’ll want your dollars to stretch as far as they can, right? Taxpayers can only shell out so much, and with deficits set to run into the red for as far as the eye can see, every dollar spent is a burden upon the American people. Further, at some point the well is going to run dry.
This leads to the second point: wasteful military spending is becoming a national security threat. America’s finances are in bad shape and most likely we won’t be able to maintain a $600 billion dollar budget indefinitely, especially if we don’t raise taxes or massively cut spending elsewhere. Building a military that is financially leaner and more efficient, however, may allow the U.S. to maintain its military strength even if we have to start trimming the budget.
Further, a dollar wasted is a dollar lost. When military funds are being wasted on unnecessary bureaucracy or failed weapons programs, that diverts funds from other more viable projects. The United States will not be able to maintain its edge in military technology indefinitely if it continues to waste money.
China, among others, is already closing the gap in this regard. Almost certainly, the Chinese will catch up to the United States at some point. Whether that’s in the next decade or the next century may come down to how the American military spends its money. Certainly, wasteful spending will allow America’s rivals to close the gap more quickly.
Which brings us back to the audit. Some American military and public leaders have come to similar conclusions, recognizing that military waste is becoming increasingly unpalatable in an era of high deficits while it also represents a threat to national security. The Pentagon audits itself internally, of course, but the unfolding audit will be conducted by outside parties.
Back in 2010, Congress included a requirement in its National Defense Authorization Act that the military would modernize its accounting practices and make itself more financially transparent to government overseers. However, Congress also gave the military until the spring of 2017 to get ready.
In January of 2017, the Government Accountability Office warned that the military’s budgets were more or less unauditable and still not ready. Now, as bloated weapons projects and more reports of wasteful spending continue to eat up headlines, the military is finally prepping for a serious and honest independent audit. Apparently, as many as 2,400 auditors will be deployed to examine the military’s bases, records, and other assets.
This audit is expected to cost nearly $1 billion dollars, but it will likely turn out to be money well spent. What will they uncover? If past reports hint at the future, there will be a whole lot of waste. This isn’t something to be ashamed of; the military is a huge and complex organization. However, for the sake of our national security and prosperity, it’s high time to clean it up.