In its May issue, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com has an unbelievable story about continued financial bumbling by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Despite spending tens of billions of dollars over the past four years to upgrade its accounting software, the military’s business systems are as unreliable as ever. DoD’s systems are "so obsolete and error prone" that it doesn’t know where large chunks of its $439.3 billion (2007) annual basic budget goes. And that figure doesn’t include the vast sums being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the report, the agency’s accounting is so dysfunctional it’s impossible for DoD to comply with an 18-year-old requirement by Congress to audit its books. What results is a system that once payments are authorized and money is transferred, there is no reliable way to trace where it ends up. The Portfolio.com article echoes a February article by The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer that profiled DoD’s "labyrinth of arcane and incompatible accounting systems." The News & Observer notes that the accounting problems are not new, and quotes Winslow Wheeler, a project director at the Center for Defense Information, as saying if DoD were a public company, "…it would have gone belly up before World War II."
Both articles lay much blame on the complexity of layers upon layers of bureaucracy partly caused by continued turf wars between the four branches of the armed services. This results in each branch continuing to maintain separate and increasingly outdated business systems that are unable to communicate with each other, trace money disbursements and detect over billing by private contractors.
And guess who picks up the tab for the waste, fraud, and abuse?
Hat tip: TPM.