You have to give Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland an A for effort in her attempts to wrap her arms around the extent of Pentagon waste, fraud, and abuse. For the past four or five months, her staff has been trying to find out just how big the problem is—to the penny.
But so far, Lee has been running into a brick wall. No wonder. The last time the Pentagon's inspector general checked, more than $2 trillon in Defense Department bucks could not be tracked. And defining waste is a little bit like arguing over religion or politics. What one person might call a wasteful program, can be another person's engine for a local economy.
In the beginning, Lee had hoped the Government Accountability Office could give her a precise dollar figure for the overall cost of “wasteful, fraudulent and abusive processes and practices at the DoD.” (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made a wild guess that it's about $15 to $18 billion—a wildly low guestimate in our opinion, although he is referring to duplicative activities within the DoD.) Lee also wanted to know how much is lost due to contracting issues, such as no-bid contracts, overcharges, poor oversight, etc.
That's not going to happen, according to the GAO, which says it is not possible to quantify the cost of fraud, waste and abuse at the Department of Defense. So far, that hasn't discouraged Lee, who still has a staffer hard at work on the topic.
We at POGO certainly applaud the effort, no matter how Quixotic it might be, and wish the numbers could be compiled. But we're not holding our breath. For decades, there have been attempts to bring the DoD's books into line. Auditors can't even seem to track the money the Pentagon spends. So how can they put a number of how much it wastes?