POLITICS

Obama Deficit Commission Member Calls For Pentagon Audit

A leading Republican on the president's deficit commission has called, informally, for an audit of the Department of Defense, arguing that without a true sense of what is being spent and where, it will be impossible to achieve significant budget savings

In a detailed, wonkish and occasionally fascinating 10-page letter sent to commission Chairmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl.) laid out a host of areas where the Pentagon's fat could be trimmed.

"The single most important step," however, he concluded, "is to better understand how the Pentagon spends its money."

Without an accurate grasp at the start of a spending program as to its most likely cost, schedule, and performance, how can decision makers understand the future consequences of their actions? Today, an ethic continues to predominate in the Pentagon that consistently paints an inaccurate picture - one that is biased in the same, unrealistic and ultimately unaffordable direction. The errors are not random: actual costs always turn out to be much higher than, sometimes even multiples of, early estimates.

The reason is simple; the Pentagon doesn't know how it spends its money. In a strict financial accountability sense, it doesn't even know if the money is spent. This incomprehensible condition has been documented in hundreds of reports over three decades from both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department's own Inspector General (DOD IG).

Coburn goes through several examples of mismanaged book keeping that prevents DoD from accurately charting the money in their accounts, the records of its purchases, or the assets on hand. He concludes that: "If we do not have a system that does not accurately know what its spending history is, and does not know what it is now, how can we make a competent, honest estimate of future costs? No failed system can be fixed if it cannot be accurately measured."

An aide confirmed to the Huffington Post that this was an endorsement of a formal audit. The letter, the aided added, was meant as a suggested course of action for the commission going forward.

A fiscal hawk, Coburn has been sounding an increasingly loud alarm with respects to defense spending. He found religion on war funding this past week when (after years of not paying for combat under President Bush) he threatened to filibuster a supplemental bill for Iraq and Afghanistan if it wasn't paid for. And in his letter to Simpson and Boyles on Wednesday, he points to many other features of DoD operations that he finds (budgetary) troublesome: including the earmarking process and the propensity for the department to purchase new weaponry that actually "increase in cost far faster than the budget increases."

Fundamental to Coburn's suggestion, however, is the Pentagon audit, which his aide, John Hart, remarked, hasn't happened simply because the departments "books are so disorganized it would be impossible to do."

READ THE LETTER HERE: