WASHINGTON — Stepping up pressure on the Pentagon to get its financial books in order, Sen. Tom Coburn introduced a bill Thursday that would stall the production of new weapons systems until the Defense Department can perform an audit.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, was joined by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and seven other senators from both parties on legislation called the “Audit the Pentagon Act.”
“By failing to pass an audit, the Pentagon has undermined our national security,” Coburn said in a statement.
“This bill ends the culture of ‘don't ask, don't tell' budgeting within the Pentagon that says, ‘don't ask us how we're spending money because we can't tell you.'”
The Government Accountability Office has placed the Pentagon in its “high risk” group because the Defense Department can't ensure “basic accountability” of the hundreds of billions of dollars received each year.
The department's financial management deficiencies adversely affect its ability to control costs; anticipate future costs; measure performance; maintain control of funds; prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse; and address pressing management issues, the GAO says.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made it a priority to get the Pentagon “audit ready” by 2014 — three years ahead of a congressional mandate. Robert F. Hale, comptroller of the Defense Department, told a Senate subcommittee in April the Pentagon must “change our business practices — we're with you there — and we are doing it.”
Coburn's bill aims to give the department some carrots and sticks to get its books ready to audit. The Pentagon would get more flexibility in how money can be used or transferred among accounts, and it would have to file fewer reports to Congress.
The legislation would transfer the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to the Treasury Department and create a chief management office empowered to fix the Pentagon's finances and information technology problems. It would prohibit any weapon system from progressing past the research and development phase until the Pentagon could audit its books.
“How can we protect taxpayer dollars from waste and abuse or set the priorities for protecting our freedoms, if the Defense Department can't even tell us how these vast sums of money are being spent?” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. “This legislation is bipartisan, it's common sense, and it'll take some big steps toward stronger accountability over federal spending.”