In our deeply partisan political climate, it is difficult to get our elected officials to agree on matters of public policy. There is, however, one issue that seems to unite factions as disparate as those represented by progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Libertarian Senator Rand Paul; nearly everyone agrees with the proposition that it is time to audit the Pentagon. It is astonishing that a government agency with an annual budget of nearly $600 billion, accounting for 54% of annual discretionary spending by the United States government, has never been audited.
For some perspective, the National Priorities Project has implemented a sobering tool that crystalizes what we, as a nation, are trading away by prioritizing unchecked military spending. For example, one year of the Pentagon’s budget – not including the cost of war – may be exchanged for nearly 52 million military veterans receiving VA medical care for one year. Or, 16 million university students can receive four-year scholarships. Or, nearly 10 million infrastructure jobs can be created. For a list of other trade-offs, visit the National Priorities Project: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/interactive-data/trade-offs/
Of course, this is not just about priorities. Even those who believe that the United States must have a robust military can still support legislation favoring an audit of the Pentagon. The Department of Defense, like any other agency, is not immune to fraud and waste. Just last year, the Washington Post exposed a hidden report proving that the Pentagon wasted $125 billion. Also last year, the Government Accountability Office documented improper or potentially dubious payments to more than 100 government programs operated by 22 agencies totaling $144 billion. Yet these hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud may just be the tip of the iceberg, because there is inadequate oversight.
Auditing the Pentagon is not just a good idea; it is required by the Constitution of the United States and the law. By failing to audit itself, the Pentagon is operating in violation of both the Constitution and federal law. This fact was highlighted in HR 3079, also known as the “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2017”. In the notes to the proposed legislation, the bill’s bipartisan congressional proponents cite the Constitution and several laws mandating that the Pentagon be audited. These include Section 9 of article I of the Constitution requiring all agencies of the Federal Government, including the Department of Defense, to publish a “regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money.” There’s also Section 303(d) of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, Section 3515 of Title 31 of the United States Code, and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996, each requiring some form of audit over Pentagon spending. Remarkably, the Pentagon has failed to comply with its obligations under the Constitution and the various laws passed by Congress. In a 2013 video message to the entire Department of Defense, then secretary of defense Chuck Hagel characterized the Pentagon’s non-compliance as “unacceptable”. We agree.
This is why we are urging any constituent who cares about runaway spending by any government agency – including the Pentagon – to contact their representatives and urge them to support passage of the bipartisan Audit the Pentagon Act of 2017. The Act is succinct piece of legislation, consisting of one sentence. The bill reduces by one-half of one percent the discretionary budget authority of the Department of Defense every fiscal year after the previous year that the department fails to complete an audit. Given the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget, this bill offers mild incentive for the Pentagon to get its finances in order and comply with its Constitutional and legal obligations. But, we need to start somewhere.
As citizens, we have an obligation to hold our government agencies accountable – particularly when one of those agencies absorbs 54% of our federal government’s annual discretionary budget.