Deficit plans recognize DoD financial management failings

Monday - 11/29/2010, 3:48pm EST

Winslow Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project

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The various deficit reduction plans are difficult to compare side by side. Winslow Wheeler said some of these plans are stating upfront how they are counting the numbers.

But, "A lot of them are not," said Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.

Wheeler -- who has worked on national security issues for three decades -- was part of the Sustainable Defense Task Force plan led by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas). This plan proposes to save $1 trillion over 10 years, Wheeler said. The plan includes a "long list" of programs to cut or reduce programs, as well as recommendations for financial management reform, he said.

"It's my personal view that you can't take the first step until you understand the spending of the Pentagon on a detailed, meaningful level, and we can't do that today," Wheeler said.

The Coburn Freeze/Audit Savings also acknowledges the deep financial problems with the Pentagon. This plan proposes freezing defense spending at 2010 levels "unless or until the Pentagon can pass comprehensive audits of programs, contractors and components," Wheeler said.

He added, "The Pentagon's own plan to be audit-ready by 2017 is completely inadequate and even if they get there -- and they won't -- you'll have very little to show for it in terms of real information."

The Coburn plan also proposes to save nearly $1 trillion over 10 years.

A third plan -- the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan -- also target DoD costs, both in the magnitude in reduction and a "meaningful emphasis" on the Pentagon's financial management problems, Wheeler said.

The Bowles-Simpson plan "didn't make it the centerpiece of their work like the coburn plan does, but they do point out that its essential and important," Wheeler said.

The proposed plans add to the "literally hundreds of reports" from the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General's Office of DoD that point to financial management failures.

"It's really been an atrocious performance," Wheeler said. "Just to put it simply, the Pentagon does not know what happens to dollars appropriated to it by Congress."

DoD relies on estimates. More troubling, the agency lacks accountability for overpayments, Wheeler said.

"We rely on the contractors to tell us when we pay them too much," he said. "Good luck on that."

RELATED LINK
Wheeler's analysis of the various deficit reduction plans