Pentagon Budget intentionally unauditable

It’s not news that the Pentagon’s budgeting is impenetrable. This is due to some mix of the earnest difficulty of tracking hundreds of billions of dollars a year in spending, partly due to incompetence, and partly intentional, to hide secret programs. What’s news to me, though it probably shouldn’t be, is the scope.

As an expert in government budgeting, Skidmore confirmed that it is accepted practice to insert adjustments into budget reports to make both sides of a ledger agree. … for example … where funds were incorrectly classified … “But those kinds of adjustments should be the exception, not the rule, and should amount to only a small percentage of the overall budget,” Skidmore said.

—Dave Lindorff, The Nation[^1]

What The Nation found was that the Pentagon uses these ‘plugs’ to launder the money many times over, until it’s untraceable:

For example, there was a net unsupported adjustment of $99.8 billion made to the $0.2 billion balance reported for Accounts Receivable.”

All of the money. Many times over:

In fiscal year 2015, for example, Congress appropriated $122 billion for the US Army. Yet DoD financial records for the Army’s 2015 budget included a whopping $6.5 trillion (yes, trillion) in plugs. Most of these plugs “lack[ed] supporting documentation,”

In the most generous possible interpretation, if I understand correctly, half of this $6.5T is single-entry credits and half is single-entry debits, so the actual spending is still the $122 billion appropriated, and “all” that’s happened is that the average dollar has been reassigned, generally without documentation, twenty-seven times. In accountable accounting, that number should be pretty close to zero.

But they don’t spend the total amount appropriated. They stash a lot of it.

“[in the 1980s] the Pentagon was able to build up a slush fund of almost $50 billion” (about $120 billion in today’s money), Spinney added. He believes that similar tricks are being used today to fund secret programs, possibly including US Special Forces activity in Niger.

Here in the future, we are mostly learning that everybody lies about everything all of the time. Which I guess we already knew.