It Really Isn’t Even a Choice between Music and Missiles

BY MARTIN KICH

The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has posted a video showing how little the Department of Defense can purchase if all of the federal funding for arts programs is eliminated, as President Trump has proposed. The video is illuminating and suggests a great deal not only about our national priorities but also about how ideology fashions its own reality:

http://www.wsj.com/video/what-funding-cuts-for-the-arts-buys-the-military/4A1F498A-BE29-4972-8F94-B11A10EC2937.html?mod=trending_now_video_1#

If arts funding is a waste of taxpayers’ money, then it is very far back in the line in terms of both the total allocation and the waste that can be demonstrated.

The Department of Defense, on the other hand, would be at the front of the line. In fact, the Pentagon’s bookkeeping is so bad that it would be close to impossible to track the waste in its spending. Consider these opening paragraphs from an article written by Jamie Crawford for CNN in late August 2016:

The US Army made trillions of dollars of accounting mistakes and often did not have the receipts or invoices needed to support figures in its budget, according to a scathing Pentagon report.

The audit, conducted by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, found that the Army erroneously made $2.8 trillion in adjustments in the third quarter of 2015 to its Army general fund – one of the main accounts used to fund the service. The error amount skyrocketed to $6.5 trillion for all of last year, the report said.

The June report, first disclosed by Reuters on Friday, found “unreliable” data was used to prepare the financial statements, leading to the possibility that the Army’s finances were “materially misstated.”

Financial managers from the Pentagon and the Army “could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions,” the audit said.

An Army spokesman disputed some of the findings.

“Though there is a high number of adjustments, we believe the financial statement information is more accurate than implied in this report,” Dov Schwartz, an Army spokesman, said in a written statement while adding that the Army was still reviewing the report.

The Defense Department’s budget for the year is nearly $600 billion, but the accounting errors have run into the trillions of dollars because making changes to one account requires changes to various other accounts. In that way, the amount of one mistake can mushroom to many times the amount of the original error.

And, before you rush to accuse me of bashing support for our troops, take a look at this article, written by Scott J. Paltrow and Kelly Carr and published by Reuters in July 2013, that suggests that the burdens on our troops are being compounded by the Department of Defense’s bad bookkeeping and its antiquated computer hardware and software:

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/pentagon/#article/part1.

The other two parts to this series provide voluminous support for the central assertions in the CNN report:

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/pentagon/#article/part2

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/pentagon/#article/part3

Perhaps we could afford to compensate our troops and even to purchase more advanced weapons systems–without increasing Defense spending—if we first invested a few billion dollars in new computer hardware and software.

I believe that there is an analogy to these seemingly skewed approaches and priorities in the wide support on the Right for constructing new pipelines but the much less enthusiastic support for funding repairs to existing roadways and bridges and other infrastructure that make daily life possible.

 

Jamie Crawford’s complete article is available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/politics/us-army-audit-accounting-errors/.

 

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