BRUNSWICK — The results of the first Pentagon audit were released last November. The Congressional Research Service reported that auditors could not express an opinion on the financial statements because the information provided “was not sufficiently reliable.” The Defense Department failed to release a report to address these deficiencies. The biggest bureaucracy in the world – with a 2019 budget of $716 billion, greater than the defense budgets of the next 11 countries combined, receiving roughly half of every discretionary dollar – is still not accountable.

Audits of every federal agency have been required since 1990. For 26 years the Department of Defense claimed they were just too large to audit – though the foot dragging may have been because failure to precisely implement the budget could result in legal action. Finally, Sen. John McCain threw the gauntlet down to David Norquist during the 2017 hearing on Norquist’s nomination as Pentagon comptroller, saying, “This must end with you.” Norquist – now acting deputy defense secretary – accepted the challenge.

During the years in which we waited for an audit, certain irregularities came to light.

In the 1980s, Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney revealed that the costs of weapons systems were being inflated to make available monies for programs that had not been appropriated.

Since 1995, the Defense Department has been on the Government Accountability Office’s list of agencies that are at high risk because of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.

On Sept. 10, 2001, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that $2.3 trillion in transactions could not be tracked – but the story fell off the radar after the attacks the next day.

In 2017, Mark Skidmore, a Michigan State University economist, reported that since 1998, the Army had consistently been receiving cash deposits that were billions more than had been appropriated. Clearly, an audit was long overdue.

By the time the audit was done and the results released, the Pentagon said it wasn’t surprised that it had failed but touted its progress in making reforms. There were no problems keeping track of major articles, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said: “We count ships right.” It would seem harder to lose big things (although the Pentagon misplaced 39 Black Hawk Helicopters last year), but the audit did find that missile motors worth $53 million, listed as not working, actually just hadn’t been installed.

The audit “uncovered more than 2,000 irregularities and $1.2 billion in improper payments,” according to the National Priorities Project. The Defense Department states that there was no evidence of fraud or abuse – a claim that lacks credibility

The need for transparency and accountability from the Defense Department is heightened because their budget has skyrocketed. To adequately fight terrorism we need more money to be budgeted for diplomacy, development overseas, job training and infrastructure projects at home crucial to national security.

At the time the audit results were released, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, then head of the House Armed Services Committee, said the audit “should not be used as an excuse for arbitrary cuts that reverse the progress we have begun on rebuilding our strength and readiness.” But neither do we need arbitrary pork barrel appropriations. Readiness is facilitated by knowing what we have, and where it is, and not having to constantly retrain personnel for questionable new equipment. It would also enhance readiness to have a strategic plan that does not have us fighting everyone everywhere.

The Pentagon’s leadership changes may slow down efforts to address audit inconsistencies. Angus King of Maine, along with 25 other senators, recently wrote to the Defense Department requesting that this process not be derailed following the departure of Gen. James Mattis as secretary.

I thank Sen. King and urge him to make sure that Mainers know where their hard-earned money is being spent. Holding the Defense Department accountable in this audit is essential to maintain our trust in the government. When Rumsfeld made his announcement in 2001, he also said that our adversary was not China or Russia, but rather was “closer to home: It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.”

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