When David Norquist came to the Senate for his confirmation hearing to be Defense Department comptroller in May, he declared, “It is time to audit the Pentagon.”
He laid out a get-tough approach to members of the Armed Services Committee who were eager after years of delays for the military to finally get its financial books in order. The new push would include “calling out” individuals in the Pentagon who were creating weaknesses in the financial reporting of an estimated $2.4 trillion in assets.
Norquist, the brother of Republican tax activist Grover Norquist, was quickly confirmed the same month and announced in December that the audit had commenced.
Now, Norquist is set to return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on his progress so far.
“This financial statement audit is one of the largest ever undertaken in history,” Norquist said last month.
Laws passed in the early 1990s require all federal agencies and departments to submit to a full review of their finances each year. The individual military services have been working toward that goal for years — the Marine Corps became the first service to run an audit last year — but the Pentagon remains the only federal department that has not been fully audited.
The department cannot account for exactly how or where all of its money and resources are used. In recent years, the Defense Department inspector general found the Army made trillions of dollars in improper accounting adjustments to balance its books and the Defense Business Board reported the department could save about $125 billion over five years by eliminating back-office bureaucracy.
About 1,200 auditors will now comb through the military’s books and look at nearly every aspect of the armed services and issue a report, according to the department. Norquist has promised that will now happen annually.
“Beginning in 2018, our annual audits will occur every single year with the reports issued on Nov. 15,” said Norquist, who was the chief financial officer at the Department of Homeland Security when that agency performed its first audit.
But do not expect the Pentagon to pass the audit even if it is completed as Norquist promised, said Dan Grazier, a fellow at the Project on Government Oversight watchdog group.
“The important issue is going through the process of actually auditing the Pentagon,” Grazier said. “I don’t think anybody really expects a clean audit the first time around but it’s important to establish kind of a baseline and to figure out where to progress from there.”
The maiden audit also comes just as the Trump administration and defense hawks in Congress are pushing to hike funding for defense. Grazier said getting the military finances in order would be key to knowing how to wisely spend the money.
“We have service leaders going up to Capitol Hill all the time saying that they need more resources,” he said. “But we don’t really know that because we don’t know how all of the resources, the abundant resources frankly, that they are receiving are being spent.”