Republicans like to talk about government efficiency and wasted tax dollars. Our nation's most prominent MBA, President George W. Bush, spoke to wasteful spending in his 2004 State of the Union address. According to President Bush, "We should limit the burden of government on this economy by acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars," and called on Congress to "focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending, and be wise with the people's money." If this administration truly wants to clean up government waste, then it should start paying attention to the massive waste of taxpayer money at the Department of Defense.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report [PDF] showing that between 2002-2004, the Department of Defense declared $33 BILLION worth of purchased goods to be "excess" - materials it didn't need or didn't end up using. Not only did DoD accumulate a surplus of materials about half the size of the total budget of the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services, but it also lost weapons critical to our national security, and bought duplicates of materials that it had thrown away.
According to the official government report, entitled "DOD Excess Property: Management Control Breakdowns Result in Substantial Waste and Inefficiency," the Department of Defense wasted billions of taxpayer dollars due to poor management, accounting, and coordination. Here are just a few examples:
* In 2002 and 2003, DoD disposed of $2.5 billion worth of "excess commodity" items that were reported to be in new, unused, and excellent condition.
* DoD purchased at least $400 million worth of new materials instead of using identical available A-condition materials it had classified as "excess."
* DoD sold "excess commodity items" through government clearinghouses and a website that makes little effort to reclaim the cost of these surplus materials. The GAO was able to purchase a medical instrument chest, two power supplies, and two circuit cards - with a cumulative value of $55,817 - for free, with a five dollar shipping charge.
* DoD reported losses of nearly 150 chemical and biological protective suits, over 70 units of body armor, and 5 guided missile warheads. In addition, inadequate oversight of DoD contractors resulted in millions of dollars in damage caused by wind, rain, and hurricanes to excess property that had been improperly stored outside.
It doesn't take an MBA to conclude that if we rooted out waste at the Department of Defense we could better support our troops. But the culture of careless spending and abuse is deeply rooted in the management of DoD, and it has permeated the agency for years. Harry Truman spent much of his congressional career fighting waste, fraud, and war profiteering at the Pentagon.
During my own career in Congress, I've seen a pattern of waste and abuse at DoD. A 2002 GAO report I requested found that U.S. Air Force personnel used their government charge cards to pay for online gambling, "gentlemen's" clubs, cruise tickets, designer leather laptop cases, and taxidermy services. Also in 2002, the Department of Defense's own Inspector General found that DoD could not account for $1.2 TRILLION in financial transactions. From spending millions of dollars on air travel that was paid for and never used, to auctioning unused equipment on an e-Bay-like clearinghouse site for a tiny fraction of the cost, the Department of Defense has developed a culture of waste that tolerates spectacular abuse of taxpayer money.
The Department of Defense received an appropriation of nearly $500 billion in the FY06 budget. DoD has now received nearly $200 billion in supplemental appropriations from Congress to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with another request for a supplemental appropriation expected this fall. This is the same agency that has failed to provide our troops on the battlefield with the body armor and up-armed Humvees they need to protect themselves. Before writing another blank check to DoD, we need to find out where the money is going.
The Department of Defense is an unaccountable money pit. Try to seriously challenge this culture of abuse, and the Republicans are far more likely to accuse you of standing in the way of national security or of not supporting our troops than to thank you for rooting out waste. So much for government efficiency.