The U.S. today has a $10.6 trillion national debt and huge unmet needs in such areas as health care, education, infrastructure and sustainable energy. Unfortunately, in the midst of all of this the Pentagon, with a greatly expanded budget of $540 billion, continues to waste billions every year. Despite repeated warnings about longstanding problems with the military's inventory management, $7.5 billion worth of unneeded parts were stashed in Navy warehouses, according to a new Government Accountability Office report that I requested.
Having too many spare parts just doesn't make sense. The bloated inventories were so big that the parts-on-hand in some cases exceeded the expected demand for the items for decades to come, according to the report.
In addition to the hefty price tag for buying the unnecessary parts, the Navy shelled out another $18 million just to store the excess parts.
And that's not even the worst of it. In fact, the Navy has ordered millions of dollars in spare parts that have not yet been delivered to its warehouses that already are marked for disposal. That is both unbelievable and outrageous.
Without acting on the GAO's cost-saving recommendations, the report added, "the Navy will likely continue to purchase and retain items that it does not need and then spend additional resources to handle and store these items."
It's not just the Navy. The new GAO report is the latest in a long series of audits to spotlight costly waste in the military procurement process at the Pentagon. Last September, the GAO calculated that more than half of the Air Force's secondary inventory, with a total average value of $31.4 billion, was not needed to support service requirements. A report on the Army inventory practices is due out in January.
One result of squandering money on excessive spare parts, the latest report concluded, is that "these funds are not available to meet other military needs."
To my way of thinking, the waste by the military is even more outrageous at a time when investments in rebuilding roads and bridges and schools are desperately needed as part of an economic recovery package to help pull us out of a steep recession.
For years now, the Pentagon has been urged to provide incentives to reduce purchases of unneeded on-order inventory, conduct a comprehensive assessment of unneeded inventory items on hand, and to take measures to address fluctuations in demand that produce these huge inventories.
They say they are working on it. Fine, but we don't need more lip service. It obviously is not good enough just to say "do a better job." We must make it illegal for the military to spend appropriations on spare parts that it cannot justify.
This is not a new problem. In 1940, then Senator Harry Truman headed up a Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. In the course of World War II, more than $15 billion in unnecessary and fraudulent defense spending was identified. We could use that same kind of concerted effort today to root out waste. That's why I cosponsored legislation that was approved by the Senate to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate U.S. wartime contracting abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At a time when our country faces an unprecedented economic crisis we need to be vigorous in ending fraud, waste and duplication in all areas of government. For too long, the Pentagon has been exempt from that scrutiny. That neglect must end now.
To read the new GAO report, click here.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.