More Pentagon Waste

April 18, 1994

Once again a congressional committee hears horror stories about the bookkeeping chaos that passes for financial management at the Pentagon. Once again, we feel safe in predicting, the legislators will trot off after the sound bites have run out. When will someone in authority -- the president, the secretary of defense, Congress -- do something besides wring its hands over the billions of tax dollars poured down a rathole by a military establishment that is fiscally out of control?

Some families can get along without balancing their checkbooks. A federal agency which spends $267 billion a year can't. The evidence continues to pile up that billions of dollars are wasted each year by the various arms of the Defense Department. Billions more are handed out without anyone being sure just what this is paying for. As a result, the taxpayer firmly believes that the military budget could be cut substantially without reducing armed strength.

A Senate hearing last week was told the Pentagon still spends some $2.5 billion a month without being sure what it is for. That is three years after the Bush administration, plagued by the same problem, created a management system that was supposed to clear up this mess. Last fall, a team of top Pentagon officials concluded the new system was still a disaster. The leader of that team? William J. Perry, now secretary of defense.

Just in the past 12 months, auditors have discovered that the Air Force was training some 1,700 pilots for which it had no aircraft, at a cost of perhaps $700 million; the Pentagon spends some $800 million in a centralized food-purchase system which can't account accurately for its spending or where the food went; two years ago, the Pentagon paid out at least $750 million in six months to contractors who weren't entitled to the money.

And so forth.

What's particularly tragic about these examples is that they occur over and over. So does the hand-wringing in Congress and the pledges to clean up procedures by the bureaucrats in the Pentagon, uniformed and civilian. Less posturing for the cameras and some serious knocking of bureaucratic heads are long overdue.

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