Jan. 10 (UPI) — Members of the House Armed Services Committee from both parties on Wednesday applauded the Department of Defense for their willing participation in its first ever full scope, service-wide audit.
David L. Norquist, undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer for the Defense Department, testified before the committee to present the Pentagon’s financial improvement plan and discuss conduct during the audit, which comes after years of financial management concerns.
“Taxpayers deserve the same level of confidence as shareholders in a company,” Norquist told members of the HASC.
About 1,200 independent auditors from various public accountant firms will conduct 24 stand-alone audits in support of the overarching Pentagon audit, he explained. The auditors will examine fund accounts, financial statements, personnel records, military equipment among other entities within the Pentagon, which will be the largest audit ever conducted on a U.S. government agency.
Last month, Defense Department officials announced they had received notification from the department’s inspector general that the financial statement audit had begun. Norquist told reporters last month that it will now be done annually.
“It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DoD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” he said at the time.
Congressman Walter Jones, R-N.C., praised the Pentagon’s cooperation in the defense-wide audit, saying, “I’ve been here for 22-years and this is the best news.”
Jones told UPI that while both Democrats and Republicans support the military and troops, Congress has not held the Pentagon’s “feet to the fire” regarding their fiduciary responsibility to the American tax payer.
“That’s why I made reference to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the hearing,” Jones told UPI. “I remember him telling the committee that ‘we will account for every dollar spent by the Department of Defense’ and it never happened.”
Concerns about the inability to track Pentagon funds go back nearly two decades, with the reference to Rumsfeld referring to officials in 2001 being unable to track about $2.3 trillion dollars. In 2015, some reports suggest as much as $6.5 trillion of Pentagon funds could not be tracked.
“I wish the very best for Mr. Norquist and the auditors, but I just don’t know how you can fix a problem, when you keep funding the problem,” said Jones, who did not voted for the National Defense Authorization Act due to the continued reports of fraud, waste, and abuse within the Pentagon.
Every two years at the start of a new Congress, the Government Accountability Office highlights agencies and programs it deems at high risk for fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and in need of transformation. The Pentagon has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 1995.
GAO’s 2017 High Risk List includes a total of 34 areas across the U.S. government that are vulnerable.
The Defense Department accounts for eight of those, including the Pentagon’s supply chain management, weapons systems acquisition, financial management, business systems modernization, and support infrastructure management, among others.
Congresswoman Susan Davis, D-Calif., asked Norquist about the culture at the Department of Defense, asking whether its views ideal financial management practices need to change.
“No one wants to be audited,” Norquist said, adding that changing the culture around the Pentagon’s finances starts with amending the “tone from the top.”
“This is about accountability, this is about doing the job you are supposed to.”