Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has introduced a bipartisan bill that would require the Pentagon to pass audits beginning in fiscal year 2022 — or face fines. The Pentagon has never passed an audit.
The bill would impose a 1 percent fine on any military and Department of Defense agencies that fail to pass their audits. Sanders introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2021 with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah on Wednesday.
“The Pentagon and the military industrial complex have been plagued by a massive amount of waste, fraud, and financial mismanagement for decades. That is absolutely unacceptable,” Sanders said in a statement. The bill comes just after a Budget Committee hearing that Sanders held last week on the subject of the Pentagon’s budget “abuse.”
“If we are serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively, we have got to end the absurdity of the Pentagon being the only agency in the federal government that has not passed an independent audit,” Sanders continued. “The time is long overdue for Congress to hold the Defense Department to the same level of accountability as the rest of the government. That is the very least we can do.”
In 1990, Congress began requiring all government agencies to be audited by the Government Accountability Office. Since 2013, every other agency has been able to pass their audits — except, indeed, the Pentagon.
“The Defense Department remains the only federal agency in the United States that has been unable to pass an independent audit, despite the fact that the Pentagon consumes more than half of the nation’s discretionary budget and controls assets in excess of $3.1 trillion, or roughly 78 percent of the entire federal government,” reads the Sanders press release on the new bill.
The Defense Department was subject to its first ever agency-wide audit in 2018. It failed that audit, and the subsequent two audits it faced. Senator Grassley, at the time of the agency’s first audit, sharply criticized it for “26 years of hard-core foot-dragging [that] shows that internal resistance to auditing the books runs deep.”
Officials have claimed that the agency won’t be able to pass an audit until 2027 at the earliest. There is a myriad of reasons for that, some of which can simply be chalked up to poor accounting. But a more sinister reason could be because employees have claimed that the agency forces them to fake the numbers to balance the budget — which would amount to fraud if it’s true.
Though none of the three audits the Department of Defense has undergone have found evidence of fraud, investigative reporting has found that the practice of fudging the numbers runs rampant at the agency, even if it’s good at obfuscating its financial situation from auditors.
Reporting has found that financial mismanagement leads to a lot of waste. And with a budget as absurdly large as the Pentagon’s, that means that the agency often loses track of enormous amounts of money. In 2018, The Nation reported that the Pentagon lost track of $21 trillion between 1998 and 2015. That’s equivalent to nearly the entire gross domestic product of the United States.
Though holding the Pentagon financially accountable will likely prove a crucial step toward a more thorough examination of the agency’s budget, many progressives and Democrats have been advocating for shrinking the Pentagon’s budget for a number of years.
“Taxpayers can’t afford to keep writing blank check after blank check for the Pentagon to cash,” said Senator Wyden in a statement.
In the Budget Committee hearing last week, Sanders called the U.S. defense budget “bloated” and pointed out that cost overruns can sometimes lead to even more spending. “At a time when we have so many unmet needs in America, we’ve gotta ask ourselves why we are spending more on the military than the next 12 nations combined,” he said.