The Pentagon Is Still Terrible at Accounting for Your Tax Dollars

Aug. 3, 2015, The Center for Public Integrity / Foreign Policy / NBC News

PentagonA celebration by the Marine Corps of its accounting prowess turns out to have been premature, with a discrepancy in a key audit of $800 million.

Defense Department officials celebrated last year after their auditor certified that the Marine Corps had successfully accounted for all the money it received and spent in 2012. They said it was a key milestone in the Pentagon’s long, troubled quest to earn that certification for all its billions of dollars in annual spending.

Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the comptroller at the time, Robert Hale, who oversaw the Corps’s work, marked the occasion at a February 2014 event in the building’s Hall of Heroes, where they presented a framed copy of the certification to the Corps’s assistant commandant. Hagel boasted that “we don’t spend a lot of time using big megaphones to tout our great accomplishments.… We get the job done. This is another example of, we’re getting the job done.”

The self-congratulations turned to embarrassment this March, however, when the Pentagon’s auditor suddenly reversed itself and withdrew its endorsement, saying newly discovered facts called into question “the completeness of the information on which we based our opinion,” according to a memorandum sent by a senior auditor to the Pentagon’s comptroller and other top defense officials.

No one said so at the time, but the Corps had not properly accounted for roughly $800 million worth of transactions on its books, insiders say. That amount represents the sum of misstated and improperly documented transactions by the Corps, according to a report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on Aug. 4.

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