The Pentagon just can’t pass an audit
In its most "successful" audit so far the Pentagon is unable to account for $1.9 trillion that Congress handed it with no strings attached. | Patrick Semansky/AP

The Pentagon just failed its audit — again. For the sixth time in a row, the agency that accounts for half the money Congress approves each year can’t figure out what it did with all that money.

For a brief recap, the Pentagon has never passed an audit. Until 2018, it had never even completed one.

Since then, the Pentagon has done an audit every year and given itself a participation prize each time. Yet despite this year’s triumphant press release — titled “DOD Makes Incremental Progress Towards Clean Audit” — it has failed every time.

In its most recent audit, the Pentagon was able to account for just half of its $3.8 trillion in assets (including equipment, facilities, etc). That means $1.9 trillion is unaccounted for — more than the entire budget Congress agreed to for the current fiscal year.

No other federal agency could get away with this. There would be congressional hearings. There would be demands to remove agency leaders, or to defund those agencies. Every other major federal agency has passed an audit, proving that it knows where taxpayer dollars it is entrusted with are going.

Yet Congress is poised to approve another $840 billion for the Pentagon despite its failures. In fact, by my count Congress has approved $3.9 trillion in Pentagon spending since the first failed audit in 2018.

Tens of billions have gone through the Pentagon to fund wars in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and now Israel. Accountability for those “assets” — including weapons and equipment — is also in question.

At this point, lawmakers surely know those funds may never be accounted for. And year after year, half of the Pentagon budget goes to corporate weapons contractors and other corporations who profiteer from this lack of accountability.

There is an entity whose job it is to prevent this sort of abuse: Congress. With each failure at the Pentagon, Congress is failing, too. Every year that members of Congress vote to boost Pentagon spending with no strings attached, they choose to spend untold billions on weapons and war with no accountability.

Meanwhile, all those other agencies that have passed their audits could put those funds to much better use serving the public. Too many Americans are struggling to afford necessities like housing, heat, health care, and child care, and meanwhile our country is grappling with homelessness, the opioid epidemic, and increasingly common catastrophic weather events.

With another government shutdown debate looming in early 2024, you’ll hear lawmakers say we need to cut those already inadequate investments in working families. But if they’re worried about spending, they should start with the agency that has somehow lost track of nearly $2 trillion worth of publicly funded resources.

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Lindsay Koshgarian
Lindsay Koshgarian

Lindsay Koshgarian is the Program Director of the National Priorities Project, where she oversees Her work on the federal budget includes analysis of the federal budget process and politics, military spending, and specifically how federal budget choices for different spending priorities and taxation interact.