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Budget chairman pushes Mattis on Pentagon audit

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Budget chairman pushes Mattis on Pentagon audit

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee is pushing the Pentagon for details on the costs and timeline of its first departmentwide audit.

“To provide for our common defense in the new era of strategic competition heralded in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, we must fundamentally reform the Department of Defense,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis released publicly Wednesday. “As we do so, taxpayers must have trust and confidence that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely.”

In December, the Pentagon launched the first full-scale audit in its history, a congressionally mandated undertaking that officials have hailed as a sign of their commitment to spending their multibillion-dollar budget wisely.

Asked about upfront costs at a congressional hearing last month, Pentagon comptroller David Norquist said the audit would cost $367 million in fiscal 2018 and an additional $551 million to fix identified problems.

Meanwhile, an audit of just the Defense Logistic Agency (DLA) that wrapped up in December found the agency failed to properly document $800 million in construction projects. 

The scrutiny of the Pentagon’s books comes as the department is requesting $686 billion for fiscal 2019, part of an overall $716 billion defense budget request. Mattis has also said he needs 3 to 5 percent budget growth each year to fix so-called readiness issues and position the military for competition with Russia and China.

In his letter, Enzi raised the DLA audit, saying the report also showed “problems reconciling DLA’s ledger with that of the Treasury Department, weaknesses in the agency’s financial IT software and a general lack of oversight mechanism.”

Enzi asked Mattis a series of questions, including how the Pentagon will spend, in a line-by-line breakdown, the $551 million to fix issues identified in the audit; when the Pentagon thinks it might achieve a clean audit; whether there are areas where upfront funding can help speed up a clean audit; and whether there is a list of savings identified to date. 

“If such trust and confidence cannot be built and justified, it will be incredibly difficult to achieve the three to five percent real growth in defense spending you have identified as necessary to meet mission requirements,” Enzi wrote. “As an accountant, I appreciate the complexities of conducting a consolidated audit of the [Defense Department] and comptroller David Norquist’s committed efforts on this regard.

“While this initiative may be far overdue, I recognize it will take some time for the Pentagon to fundamentally improve its financial accounting systems. We cannot, however, be dissuaded by the long-term nature of the task.”

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