When I was home two weeks ago, I heard concerns from many of my constituents. During these difficult economic times, one issue in particular stood out among the rest: Why can’t our Department of Defense generate audited financial statements for taxpayers? I have been asking that same question for several years.
I applaud Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ goal to find efficiencies in lower-priority missions so we can reinvest those dollars in future initiatives at the Defense Department. Earlier this year, we read headlines of defense budget initiatives and efforts to correct the bloated DOD budget. However, these high-flying cuts failed to address the fundamentals of financial management that any small-business owner understands.
We must not allow bureaucrats inside the Pentagon to continue to make critical financial decisions using outdated and cumbersome financial management systems. We need a strong effort from Gates to address waste, fraud and abuse within the DOD, and it begins with tackling the issue of understanding the financial practices within the department.
I recently penned a letter to Gates encouraging him to press his leadership to invest in establishing basic financial and internal control systems to gain a better understanding of where our taxpayer dollars are going and to save money where possible. A very simple idea, yet a tall order even for some of the best accounting minds.
The Department of Defense is one of the largest enterprises in the world. Its financial activity surpasses the gross domestic product of many countries. As a certified public accountant, I have a firm grasp of the difficulties facing the Pentagon in auditing its books and understand that this will be a hard task. But, like Gen. David Petraeus said last year, “Hard is not impossible.”
As I stated in my letter to Gates and have mentioned in numerous hearings while serving on the House Armed Services Committee, this task requires emphasis from the top down and must last beyond the tenure of Members of Congress or secretaries of Defense. Gates has indicated he will leave the Pentagon by the end of the year, which is why we cannot allow bureaucrats to ride this out until the next set of leaders comes into office. It must start with gusto and remain consistent for generations to come.
I begin the 112th Congress re-energized in my efforts to correct this lingering problem. With a coalition of my peers, I believe we are properly situated to work with the Pentagon to satisfactorily account for the tax dollars that it is given to protect the very individuals that provide the money. It is my sincere hope that through this communication now and in the future, we will reinforce accountability within the Pentagon and make good on the Defense Department’s obligation to be a steward of the taxpayer’s money with which it is entrusted. Absolutely no one is exempt from that responsibility.
The American people spoke with passion last November. We’re listening. Now is the time for leadership, not rhetoric, from top military officials. The secretary of Defense needs to put some muscle behind this task and get the department’s fiscal house in order sooner rather than later. Our men and women in uniform are our finest investment. We should save every penny that we can within our defense apparatus to provide them with every tool that they need to keep them safe and keep us free.
The Department of Defense was first required to get its fiscal house in order more than two decades ago. It’s time for the Defense Department to step up to the plate.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R) represents Texas’ 11th district and serves on the Armed Services, Agriculture, Ethics and Intelligence committees.