Army accountants make trillions of dollars in illegal entries: IG report
Our army may be a superior war-fighting force, but when it comes to keeping track of where the taxpayer's money is going, they are epic failures.
A report by the inspector general of the Defense Department reveals that accountants made trillions of dollars in illegal entries – sometimes just pulling numbers out of thin air – in order to show the books balancing.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.
As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”
Disclosure of the Army’s manipulation of numbers is the latest example of the severe accounting problems plaguing the Defense Department for decades.
The report affirms a 2013 Reuters series revealing how the Defense Department falsified accounting on a large scale as it scrambled to close its books. As a result, there has been no way to know how the Defense Department – far and away the biggest chunk of Congress’ annual budget – spends the public’s money.
The new report focused on the Army’s General Fund, the bigger of its two main accounts, with assets of $282.6 billion in 2015. The Army lost or didn’t keep required data, and much of the data it had was inaccurate, the IG said.
“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” said Franklin Spinney, a retired military analyst for the Pentagon and critic of Defense Department planning.
The significance of the accounting problem goes beyond mere concern for balancing books, Spinney said. Both presidential candidates have called for increasing defense spending amid current global tension.
An accurate accounting could reveal deeper problems in how the Defense Department spends its money. Its 2016 budget is $573 billion, more than half of the annual budget appropriated by Congress.
The Army account’s errors will likely carry consequences for the entire Defense Department.
But how can there be trillions of dollars in errors if their budget is only $500 billion?
Some employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), which handles a wide range of Defense Department accounting services, referred sardonically to preparation of the Army’s year-end statements as “the grand plug,” Armstrong said. “Plug” is accounting jargon for inserting made-up numbers.
At first glance adjustments totaling trillions may seem impossible. The amounts dwarf the Defense Department’s entire budget. Making changes to one account also require making changes to multiple levels of sub-accounts, however. That created a domino effect where, essentially, falsifications kept falling down the line. In many instances this daisy-chain was repeated multiple times for the same accounting item.
Congress has ordered an audit for next year, at which time we're likely to receive a shock regarding how much taxpayer money is wasted. With so much accounting tomfoolery, it's likely that waste and even fraud total tens of billions of dollars.
It's painful to contemplate where that money might be spent.