At a time when one party's presidential candidate has accused the other of being a murderous, cancer-causing, draft-dodging felon, it is nice to know that there are still some people in both parties capable of crossing the aisle and do the work of government.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., took a constructive step last week when they introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act. The bill's aim is simple: "We need to make sure that we're using our limited resources in the best way possible to support the men and women in uniform," Manchin said last week. "In short, this bill helps the Pentagon help itself," Coburn added.
Despite a budget of more than a half-trillion dollars, the Department of Defense is the only federal agency that has never fully complied with the government's financial management standards over the last 20 years. The Government Accountability Office has designated the Department of Defense a "high risk" for waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars for the last 17 years in a row.
Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution clearly charges Congress with the duty of producing "a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money" that is to be published "from time to time." Unless it forces the Pentagon to give a full account of its spending, Congress is shirking one of its fundamental constitutional duties.
The Audit the Pentagon Act includes both carrots and sticks to help the Defense Department comply with financial accountability laws. First, the bill ends some out-of-date reporting requirements that bog the Pentagon down. And it increases the authority of the Pentagon to reprogram other funds without seeking new congressional approval.
But if the Pentagon fails to account for how it spends taxpayer money, the act forbids all major new weapon systems to move beyond the research and development phase. The bill also creates a chief management officer and transfers the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to the Treasury Department -- the same agency that administers payments for the rest of the federal government.
Not all Pentagon spending is wasteful. Much of it is absolutely essential to accomplishing the federal government's primary reason for existence: ensuring the nation's security. But if the DoD can't even explain how it spends taxpayer money, then good Pentagon programs must be cut along with the bad.
"As a business owner for over 30 years, I know the value and importance of a comprehensive audit of an organization's finances. A clear picture of how dollars are spent enables you to prioritize critical missions and eliminate waste," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a co-sponsor of Audit the Pentagon, said last week. That's is just common sense. When the Senate comes back in session in September, this bill should be the first item on its list.