Tackling Pentagon waste means battling the big weapons makers and asking more of Congress.

by Julia Gledhill and William D. Hartung, Tom Dispatch

It’s early in the new Congress, but lawmakers are already hotly debating spending and debt levels. As they do so, they risk losing track of an important issue hiding in plain sight: massive Pentagon waste. At least in theory, combating such excess could offer members of both parties common ground as they start the new budget cycle. But there are many obstacles to pursuing such a commonsense agenda.

Pentagon waste is a longstanding issue in desperate need of meaningful action. Last November, the Department of Defense once again failed to pass even a basic audit, as it had several times before. In fact, independent auditors weren’t even able to assess the Pentagon’s full financial picture because they couldn’t gather all the necessary information to complete an evaluation. In some ways, that should have been devastating, the equivalent of a child receiving an incomplete on an end-of-year report card. No less alarming, the Pentagon couldn’t even account for about 61% of its $3.5 trillion in assets. Yet the last Congress still approved $858 billion in defense programs for fiscal year 2023, a full $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.

US Pentagon and Potomac river in Arlington, Virginia

Spending levels aside, poor financial management has a serious negative impact on both service members and taxpayers. Last month, for example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that the Pentagon can’t account for at least $220 billion worth of its property, including such basics as ammunition, missiles, torpedoes, and their component parts. For its part, Congress (and so the average taxpayer) doesn’t have the faintest idea how much it’s spent on weapons or their components distributed to contractors for maintenance and upgrades. Worse, the GAO reports that the $220 billion in unaccounted-for equipment and parts is “likely significantly understated.”

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