Congress has ‘clout’ to force clean DoD audits

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The Defense Department hasn’t produced a clean financial audit in at least two decades.

Now, members of the House Armed Services Committee are preparing a deep-dive look into DoD finances and the systems that support them. Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) are heading the committee panel examining the Pentagon’s finances.

But Andrews said before any new legislation is written, the panel must first determine the scope of the problem.

“Our goal here is not necessarily to write a law,” he told Federal News Radio. “I think we have enough laws. Our goal is to figure out how we can leverage the institutional power of the Congress to get these financial statements into the hands of the public as soon as we can.”

The Pentagon’s audit problem is three-fold, he said. The first is simply technical. DoD is saddled with some “ancient” software programs, Andrews said, that make audits difficult. The second issue is one of training. Finally, there’s the “political will problem,” he said, which entails changing Pentagon and, even, Congressional culture.

Andrews said it has often been “mutually convenient” for both the Pentagon and Congress to look the other way. “I’m not suggesting I have knowledge of any smoking gun sitting there of terrible abuses … At the very best-case scenario there’s just been redundancy and carelessness, and I assume there’s been some more nefarious behavior along the way as well,” he said.

In contrast to other recent legislative regulatory pushes, Andrews said the initial goal of this panel is not designing a big-ticket piece of legislation.

“We want to find the scope of the problem, learn the facts about the problem and then see if whether law is necessary to fix the problem … rather than go into this with a piece of legislation in mind and see if we can fit the facts around this,” he said.

The Business Transformation Agency, which was established in 2006 to modernize the department’s auditing practices, was targeted for inactivation in August 2010 by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ departmental efficiency initiatives.

Still, Andrews said the problem wasn’t the disbanding of the office. “I think it was the lack of power that office had to compel other agencies to invest in the software systems and the accounting systems necessary, and then to make sure they followed up and did the job,” he said.

In other words, BTA simply didn’t have enough “clout,” he put it. “Congress has now stepped in very aggressively, and I think that we do have the clout to force this result to occur.”