Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Robbing Pvt. Peter to pay Sgt. Paul?
March 2, 2005 3:49 PM   Subscribe

"Pentagon Budget Blackmail" A milblog is reporting that there's some funny accounting going on with the funding that's used to pay US troops. "I think it's early May when we run out of money," reads one ominous quote. This is all tied into the supplemental funding the Bush Adminstration has requested of Congress; in a related (hopefully soon to be non-)issue, the specific request for increased death benefits seems to be on a bit of a spacewalk at the moment.
posted by alumshubby (22 comments total)

 
As the Guckert scandal so amply showed us, blogs are only useful and true when they support the President. Since this is therefore just rumor and hearsay, the military is just fine.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:52 PM on March 2, 2005


Less like blackmail and more like budgetary shenanigans.

Rumsfeld:
"According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions."
posted by kuatto at 4:14 PM on March 2, 2005


As if the Pentagon would ever face a real budget crunch.

But key members of Congress, like Sen. John McCain, are getting increasingly fed up with this backdoor effort to add tens of billions to the defense budget by essentially holding G.I.'s livelihood hostage. Sooner or later, things are going to come to a head.

...and then congress will buckle again for fear of being branded Traitors Who Hate Our Troops. I suppose McCain has the necessary ethos to lead such a push, but I'll believe it when I see it.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 4:24 PM on March 2, 2005


The problem I have with these articles is the same problem that scientists have with science reporting in the popular media. It has to be simplified and boiled down to a few sentences or paragraphs to make sense to lay people.

To any finance or IT person, our finance system is a shambles. However, our customers get their stuff. Our vendors get paid. We were not as bad as Enron, we just never had the tools to to general ledger accounting.

DoD mandated that all of its agencies be FFMIA compliant. We are moving in that direction, but you can't turn a battleship on a dime. I'm on a five year SAP implementation that will give us visibility into the level of detail that we will need to do this kind of accounting.

When Rummy says that 'we can't track these transactions' you should not read 'we have misplaced 2.3 trillion dollars.' You should read this as 'we don't have easy access to all the data and metadata that we'd like to have.' We'd like to be able to assign project codes, so that we can see that this part went on this weapon system that was used in this exercise. That is the sort of level of detail that we're getting to.
posted by fixedgear at 4:30 PM on March 2, 2005


fixedgear, it sounds like you actually are in the middle of dealing with this accounting nightmare. Do you actually work for the DoD or in governmental accounting, or are you referring to civilian private enterprise when you talk about "our financial system"? If the former, who ultimately are the "customers" -- the various branches of the armed forces?

If the former, then at least it's reassuring to know that the underlying cause of the problem is apparently being addressed. I wonder how many times the DoD has had to pull such sleights of hand to keep the money going to where it's needed. When I first read the inflammatory headline of the post I linked to, I thought, "Oh, no, don't tell me the snuffies are gonna get screwed like this," but if this is just a shortfall while waiting for an appropriations bill to go through, then apparently the hysterical tone is a little premature.
posted by alumshubby at 4:55 PM on March 2, 2005


Fixedgear-
That made a lot of sence, but I prefer the snarky responses that make the Pentagon look even worse.
posted by Balisong at 4:55 PM on March 2, 2005


I work here. We are a 'field activity' and these folks are our 'corporate parent.' Yes, our customers are the armed forces. We buy food, clothing, medical supplies, nuts, bolts, mops, brooms, spare parts for ships, planes, tanks, Humvees, etc.

The cycle of shortfall waiting for appropriations bill to get negotiated is a yearly exercise. These accounting problems are not new, they have been around for decades. We've finally come to the realization that we're not really very good at coding. So we're buying off the shelf software and trying to adapt our business practices to the constraints inherent in the software

A lot of this latest attempt to get things under control can be traced to a Leslie Stahl report on 60 Minutes that aired in the early 90's. She visited a depot that had Korean war vintage spares, lots of stuff stored outside under a sort of lean-to, and in one really fine moment they opened a Vietnam-era cardboard box that used to contain bathrobes(!) that was filled with basically lint. We would routinely sell inventory as excess on Monday, only to issue a solicitation to purchase more of the exact same item on Tuesday. No visibility. It is getting better but it is a slow process.
posted by fixedgear at 5:22 PM on March 2, 2005


That made a lot of sence, but I prefer the snarky responses that make the Pentagon look even worse.

You are all missing the point. Also from Defense Tech (the milblog linked to in this FPP):

This is another case of Rumsfeld refusing to make a choice between the military's current needs and its future, of trying to have it both ways. He needs to get gear to the troops in Iraq. But he doesn't want to sacrifice any of the military's big ticket items in order to do it. So he pulls a little trick on Congress. First, Rumsfeld sends lawmakers his main Pentagon budget, which has lots of line items for projects like the hulking, $117 billion Future Combat Systems. And then, crying poverty, Rumsfeld asks for body armor money which there's no chance in hell that Congress will deny.

I would make a distinction between career civil servants like fixedgear who are presumably hard working honest folks and know-it-all Rumsfeld who has been a disaster of a SecDef and should have been fired long ago.
posted by mlis at 6:01 PM on March 2, 2005


With all these supplemental requests, it certainly looks like the federal budget will become known as little more than "wishful thinking".

This year, on top of a federal budget with a $500B deficit, the President has already asked for an $82B supplemental on behalf of the Pentagon. Now we know there's another $41B forthcoming, again for the Pentagon. And it's barely March... upcoming political plans for the White House include Social Security privatization (which could cost, according to many, nearly $800B in startup costs) and of course making the tax cuts permanent.

Is anyone else wondering where the money will come from that will pay for these things?
posted by clevershark at 6:13 PM on March 2, 2005


fixedgear is right -- there is no crisis a-brewing this fiscal year that hasn't occurred in just about every other year in recent memory. I'm active-duty military, and have worked in a few budget/finance offices...the accounting practices really are cumbersome, but that's because it is not "our" money -- there are many administrative hoops to jump through for routine purchases, plenty of paperwork and documentation, and redundant checks-&-balances, to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely. We really do our best to account for everything and track who purchases what, and where the supplies and equipment are at any given moment...but when dealing with an organization as large as DoD with over one million people, stationed across every continent, with different accounting & coding & IT systems for Army, Navy, Air Force, Guard, Reserve, etc, etc...well, it's tricky to keep track of things, quite simply. When looking at expenses and purchases at various levels, there are varying degrees of "transparency," not all of which are visible at any given time to every person analyzing the data. A bit frustrating, at times, and surely very confusing to those who don't routinely work with the military accounting system -- hence panicky headlines like the one above.
posted by davidmsc at 6:51 PM on March 2, 2005


Ha. Let's not forget the ultimate cost of privatizing Social Security, which is that all of our money will wind up in the pockets of a handful of opportunistic wall street types and certain friends of the Bush family.

Regarding Rumsfeld, I sincerely hope that this asshole goes down in the history books as one of the worst members of this country's administration ever. This is worse than shameful. It SHOULD be criminal.
posted by shmegegge at 6:59 PM on March 2, 2005


Already, the GAO said, the services have deferred the repair of equipment used in Iraq, grounded some Air Force and Navy pilots, canceled training exercises, and delayed facility-restoration projects. The Air Force is straining to cover the cost of body armor for airmen in combat areas, night-vision gear and surveillance equipment, according to the report.
posted by mlis at 7:01 PM on March 2, 2005


Is anyone else wondering where the money will come from that will pay for these things?


Your children, Clevershark, your children.

Why do you think Bush keeps talking about a "Culture of Life" and pours money in to abstinence ed? To pander to the religious right? Hah! The US is going to need a whole lotta brats to pay for the boomer's excesses. Even the youths who can vote are too incredibly stupid on the whole to comprehend just how massively they are being fucked, so who's going to stop these swine?

"Do we really need $400b for the JSF? We already have complete air superiority, and it will be obsolete before the production run is even finished, wouldn't it be prudent to maybe cut back the order?"
"Fucked if I care; my kids 'll pick up the bill!"
"Why are we spending $300b on a missle shield that has virtually no chance of ever functioning?"
"Not my problem."
"But we're killing and crippling these kids every day in Iraq, and others are leaving the country, what happpens if there aren't enough?"
"No big deal, I hear they're really fun to make."
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:06 PM on March 2, 2005


A milblog...

you should really learn some engspeak.
posted by quonsar at 8:00 PM on March 2, 2005


My biggest observation, having been in the military and now working as a civilian, is the amount of money wasted in certain areas while others areas are badly hurting.

We had live-fire exercises where we could only afford five bullets each. How much do bullets cost? Yet when the end of the fiscal year rolls around, and there is money left over, we can magically afford plasma screen televisions for every room in the unit, fly jets just for fun, and spend, spend, spend.

The accounting needs work. That may be the way it is in every large organization, though.
posted by bagels at 8:01 PM on March 2, 2005


And it's barely March... upcoming political plans for the White House include Social Security privatization (which could cost, according to many, nearly $800B in startup costs) and of course making the tax cuts permanent.

And let's not forget the invasions of Iran and Syria that have been planned for a long time.

This administration really doesn't give a shit at all whether or not its Social Security plans actually go through; they've had several plans for invasions since before Bush got "elected", and they're really only pretending to govern at this point.

I told my parents last July that we were going to invade Iran and Syria next--and they're good, solid, intelligent and skeptical liberals--and they just couldn't believe it.
posted by interrobang at 8:24 PM on March 2, 2005


If you cannot 'account' for the money, it's impossible to say that it was not spent on personal butlers, bikini wax jobs etc. It means you have no idea where it is.

In the same vein, if a significant percentage of a budget is top secret, we will never know where it goes. We trust it goes towards the right things, but who knows?

If we are to assume that everything in budget land is ok, perhaps we should also assume the $9 billion dollars the CPA misplaced in Iraq went towards reconstruction? Hah!

Let me put it this way:
If the DOD is unable to audit itself, why should I assume that the money is being spent wisely?
posted by kuatto at 9:28 PM on March 2, 2005


If the DOD is unable to audit itself, why should I assume that the money is being spent wisely?

It would be folly to assume that every nickel was spent wisely. I think the point is that the fact that audits are not done or not done correctly is not necessarily an attempt to obfuscate (although there may be some desire to be less than forthright) but a reflection of our byzantine procedures. It can cost $500 in administrative costs to buy a $500 part, but that is just a symptom of a system that is getting out of control.

Yet when the end of the fiscal year rolls around, and there is money left over, we can magically afford plasma screen televisions for every room in the unit, fly jets just for fun, and spend, spend, spend.

This one always kills me, but the fact remains that this is business as usual for program managers everywhere. Didn't spend all of your budget last year? We'll cut it this year! You only have to experience that once before you spend like a madman prior to Sept. 30.
posted by fixedgear at 2:02 AM on March 3, 2005


Its the "permanent" tax cuts that really kill me. Permanent is a code phrase that simply means: "Wait for the Democrats to get back in, and repeal them to pay the debt. Then we can, again, call them 'tax-and-spend' liberals! Ha ha!"
posted by Goofyy at 2:58 AM on March 3, 2005


I hope we fix the death benefit issue soon. I hadn't checked the numbers lately - sadly, we just topped 1500 US military fatalities.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:10 AM on March 3, 2005


I think the point is that the fact that audits are not done or not done correctly is not necessarily an attempt to obfuscate (although there may be some desire to be less than forthright) but a reflection of our byzantine procedures.

say what?
posted by kuatto at 4:25 PM on March 3, 2005


We're not trying to hide anything. Sorry,
posted by fixedgear at 5:19 PM on March 3, 2005


« Older Japanese Warning Signs: Signs. In Japanese. Warn...  |  Fingerbootyology... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments