After Failing 3 Times in a Row, Pentagon Admits It Won’t Pass an Audit till 2027
Jeff Schogol / Task and Purpose
(November 16, 2020) — It may take the Pentagon until 2027 before it can finally pass a financial audit, said Thomas Harker, who is performing the duties of the Defense Department’s comptroller.
Harker told reporters on Monday that the Department of Homeland Security required 10 years before it could finally get a “clean opinion” on an audit.
“We had a meeting last week where each of the military services presented their timelines to get to a clean opinion for us, and that’s roughly similar to what the DHS timeline was,” Harker said at a Pentagon news conference on Thursday. “If you look at when we first started being audited in 2017, we’re on track — or, we have plans that are resourced to get us to a clean opinion around that same timeframe.”
Defense officials announced in November 2018 that the Pentagon had failed the first audit in the Defense Department’s history.
Then Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan noted at the time, “We never thought we were going to pass an audit, right?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Pentagon went on to fail its second audit the following year, and on Monday Harker confirmed that the Defense Department had also failed its third audit, which was conducted in fiscal 2020.
When Task & Purpose asked where exactly the Defense Department is overspending and what else it is doing wrong, Harker countered that the mere fact that the Pentagon may need 10 full years until it can actually pass an audit is not an indicator that defense officials are wasting money.
“It’s not that anyone is doing anything wrong,” Harker replied. “This is something that has never been done for an entity of the size and complexity as the Department of Defense.”
He added that the Defense Department had been focused on buying weapons systems and implementing its budget instead of building up its financial accounting resources in recent years.
Now the Pentagon is in the process of fixing any accounting issues that it finds and improving the accuracy of its financial information, he said.
Harker noted that the Marine Corps’ payroll system passed internal testing with “100% accuracy” during the most recent audit. The Navy has also rediscovered more than $50 million worth of equipment for planes and ships that it forgot it had.
“We spent $200 million being audited this year,” Harker said. “But when we look at the return on investment for the process improvements that we’re making around accountability for property, accountability for inventory, that type of thing — we’ve identified more than $700 million in savings, based on these process improvements.”
Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.
How the Pentagon Lost Track of $715 Million in Weapons and Gear Funneled to Anti-ISIS Allies in Syria
A Syrian commando-in-training applies the safety on his rifle during basic rifle marksmanship training in Syria, July 20, 2019. (US Army/Spc. Alec Dionne)
(February 18, 2020) — The US government failed to effectively account for nearly $715.8 million in weapons and equipment allocated to Syrian partners as part of the multinational counter-ISIS fight, according to a new report from the Defense Department inspector general.
The audit, publicly released on Tuesday, revealed that officials with Special Operations Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve “did not maintain comprehensive lists of all equipment purchased and received” to equip Syrian allies in the anti-ISIS fight (known as CTEF-S equipment) in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 due to a lack of a central repository for accountability documentation.
In addition, officials with the 1st Theater Sustainment Command “did not properly store or secure” the relevant equipment in accordance with Pentagon guidelines so far that, in at least one case, 1st TSC personnel “stored weapons outside in metal shipping containers, exposing the equipment to harsh environmental elements, such as heat and humidity.”
The core focus of the report is the resulting equipment redundancies that arise from poor accounting. “Without accurate accountability records, such as inventory records and hand receipts, SOJTF-OIR personnel could order equipment that SOJTF-OIR already has in stock, risking unnecessary spending of CTEF-S funds and further overcrowding the BPC Kuwait warehouse resulting in equipment being stored outside.”
Poorly maintaining gear or ordering duplicates is one thing; maintaining custody of sensitive equipment, especially weapons, is another. Indeed, the DoD audit found that the lax standards for gear accountability left “thousands” of weapons and other gear “vulnerable to loss or theft.”
While Military Times rightfully notes that the audit doesn’t indicate that any of these weapons ended up in enemy hands, the audit suggests that the lack of clear accounting makes it impossible to determine what gear, if any, may have ended up where it doesn’t belong.
“Without conducting consistent inventories and ensuring proper security for CTEF-S equipment, 1st TSC could not determine whether items were lost or stolen which could delay the initiation of an investigation,” according to the report.
This is generally not great, but also deeply unsurprising. Indeed, a damning report from Amnesty International published in May 2017 suggested that the US has already failed to track more than $1 billion in arms transfers to Iraqi and Kuwaiti security forces as part of OIR, a lack of accountability that didn’t stop the US from requesting that $715.8 million in weapons and gear to equip Syrian forces
As Task & Purpose has previously reported, this lack of gear accountability among both US forces and other foreign countries has only fueled the capabilities of non-state actors like ISIS. In August 2017, Iraqi security forces turned up an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile and launcher while expelling militants from city of Tal Afar; the following month, an ISIS propaganda video showed a jihadi sniper rocking a US-made 7.62mm Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle.
This has been a problem since the beginning of the Global War on Terror. Indeed, a 2016 investigation into 14 years of Pentagon weapons contracts by non-profit Action on Armed Violence revealed that of the nearly 1.5 million firearms that DoD provided to Afghan and Iraqi security forces, officials only had records for around 700,000 weapons.
Those weapons can turn up when you least expect them — and in the worst possible way. Consider the deaths of two members of the 7th Special Forces Group in an insider attack in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province earlier this month. According to the New York Times, the Afghan soldier who killed them didn’t use a Soviet-era Kalashnikov, but an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon supplied by the United States.
According to the Pentagon audit, SOJTF-OIR and 1st TSC personnel agreed with the problems detailed by the DoD OIG and immediately initiated “corrective actions” to address the lack of accountability among US military gear. But according to the report, this may be too little too late — and without a proper system, the US has no way of knowing which gear is ending up in the wrong hands.
Jared Keller is the deputy editor of Task & Purpose. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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