The goal is audacious enough, but promises of a record spending increase makes it even more complicated.
The Pentagon will spend the next several months gearing up for a mission so complicated that many officials doubt it can be pulled off, an undertaking so immense that the military hasn’t once dared to try it before.
No, this isn’t a story about deploying a fancy new weapon, or unveiling a new aircraft, or launching a military operation of any kind: The Department of Defense is preparing for its first-ever audit.
That the nation’s most sprawling and expensive bureaucracy—and the world’s largest employer—has yet to undergo a formal, legally mandated review of its finances is a source of embarrassment among budget watchdogs, and it has become a preoccupation for members of Congress intent on demonstrating their fiscal prudence even as they appropriate more than $600 billion annually to the Pentagon. “Like Waiting for Godot,” one Democratic senator, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, quipped about the absent audit at a recent hearing. The lack of formal accountability has left unanswered basic questions about how the military spends taxpayer money, like the precise number of employees and contractors its various branches have hired. Cost overruns have become legendary, none more so than the F-35 fighter-jet program that has drawn the ire of President Trump. And partial reports suggest that the department has misspent or not accounted for anywhere from hundreds of billions to several trillion dollars.
After years of missed deadlines, the mounting political pressure and a renewed commitment from the Trump administration might finally result in an audit. For the first time last year, both major political parties called for auditing the Pentagon in their campaign platforms. That unites everyone from Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz and the House Freedom Caucus. And last week, Trump’s nominee to serve as comptroller for the Pentagon, David Norquist, testified at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would insist on one whether the department could pass it or not. “It is time to audit the Pentagon,” Norquist told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in his opening statement.
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