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Department of Defense fighting a lost cause for accountability

We all know that we have the best Army money can buy, as we are told every day by the intense mountain-climbing “Army of One” TV commercials. But the money to buy it could be a problem if the department that oversees the U.S. Army misplaces those funds.

The General Accounting Office recently raised complaints with the Department of Defense’s financial management, noting that the Pentagon is unable to account for more than $1 trillion in transactions and failed to keep track of military equipment that has been listed as missing.

It is astounding that a federal accounting department is unable to locate such large amounts of money, let alone have supervision so negligent that the U.S. Army lost 56 airplanes, 32 tanks and 36 Javelin missiles, according to Tuesday’s report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I would hope that the Defense Department could have a more efficient inventory system than Wal-Mart, who seem to be able to keep track of their inventory.

Then again, this is the same government that is more concerned with tracking international college students who change their majors, then such petty, little things as Army equipment.

Last year, President George W. Bush wanted to punish Enron and other corporate executive officers for financial mishaps.

I wonder what the penalty for losing aircraft could be?

Ironic, how the financial woes of our own government will be a priority with the House and Senate’s agenda this month.

This includes a proposal from the Bush administration that unsurprisingly doesn’t pinpoint a solution for the department’s inability to function effectively.

A 207-page proposal, called the “Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act,” fails to tighten or supervise the department’s financial management.

Rather, it gives Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld more authority to move money around within the department without reporting to Congress. Rumsfeld would be able to “transfer no more than 2.5 percent of total Department of Defense funds” for one fiscal year to other accounts within the department, such as investing more money in chemical and biological weapons for military action.

But if Rumsfeld and his Defense Department can’t keep track of funds when they remain in one account, how are funds moving to different accounts within the department supposed to help? Maybe they’ll remember if they write it on a dry erase board. Office Depot offers a cabinet-style 48 in. by 48 in. dry erase board for only $699.99, markers not included. The Defense Department can file it under expenses along with the $600, toilet seat it bought.

Even Monday’s GAO report on the Defense Department’s budget shows the fund transfers could be problematic. According to the report for fiscal year 2002-03, the department had a $20.5-billion budget for the war on terrorism, which was split and transferred to different accounts.

The report states the “DOD cannot use its accounting system to track the use of these funds because they are commingled with those appropriated for other purposes.”

If the Pentagon wants to increase U.S. security, it should consider protecting the financial resources that might be needed later. These funds may be needed later for another “Operation (fill in the blank) Freedom.”

Perhaps the Defense Department could copy the Homeland Security Advisory System of color coding to raise awareness when funds are in jeopardy. If the act is approved, the Defense Department will be in the red, in more sense than one.

Grace Agostin is a senior and an Oracle Associate Editor.