Guest Editorial: Time to audit the Department of Defense
Back in the 1990s, Congress wisely imposed budget-transparency mandates on federal government agencies. Being bureaucracies, they didn’t always swiftly comply. But one of the biggest and most sprawling — the Department of Defense — flagrantly failed.
Now, the Pentagon is about to go through its first audit. And there’s good reason to believe that chief auditor and comptroller David Norquist is the right man for the job. With a background in House Appropriations and financials at the Department of Homeland Security, he was a good choice for President Trump to make. He says he sees the audit as a great opportunity, not a big bugaboo. He’s right.
There’s a lot on the line. The military brass howled in the Obama years when failed budget negotiations triggered the so-called “sequester” of funds, including Pentagon dollars. This year, they cheered the return of a big-budget allocation — $700 billion. But word is out that the Pentagon stuffed away a recent internal study showing more than a seventh of its current budget disappeared into the maw of “administrative waste.”
All bureaucracies are jealously protective of their funds. They know that, in Washington, if you don’t defend your turf, you lose it. But the Department of Defense is special. While budgetary transparency across the federal government is a great virtue, it’s especially helpful when it comes to our nation’s military.
That’s because Americans are inclined to spare no expense when it comes to protecting our country, our people and our national interests. A well-done audit will reveal where money is best placed to achieve those permanent goals. Rather than gutting the defense budget, in other words, transparency will gut the waste, shifting dollars to spend them wisely.
Therefore, the Defense Department audit is even more important for the follow-on effects it will encourage. For decades, the department has taken budgetary advantage of its special status as the bureaucracy that protects us most. One adverse consequence of that position was to help give implicit cover to other agencies, each of which has increasingly developed a moralistic turf claim. Any budget shrinkage can now be spun as a mortal threat to one of America’s vital interests, from the environment to the economy to crime fighting and energy and well beyond.
Lifting the Pentagon’s sacred cow status will have a salutary effect on moralistic budget struggles. If even the mighty Defense Department can throw open its books and bite the bullet on administrative squandering, every other one of America’s bloated and inefficient bureaucracies should do the same.
The change should also have a heartening effect on our fractured national politics. Though already federally mandated during the recent presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and then-candidate Trump went out of their way to publicly support the audit. At a time when national security issues and the threat of foreign meddling have driven a deep fissure between segments of the electorate, it’s healthy and needful for Americans to rediscover some ground for consensus on military issues. The audit is a responsible, respectful place to begin.
Orange County Register, Dec. 29, 2017