By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 2008
The Defense Department's inspector general says he needs more staff and money to monitor sharply rising spending by the Pentagon on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader fight against terrorism.
While that spending increased by more than 50 percent between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2007, Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter's staff has remained relatively constant, according to a report his office sent to Congress on March 31 that was made public last week.
"The rapid growth of the DoD budget since FY 2000 leaves the Department increasingly more vulnerable to the fraud, waste, and, abuse that undermines the Department's mission," the report said.
In seeking an additional $25 million above the Bush administration request for next year's budget, the Kicklighter report said the funds are "directly linked to requests by Congress to increase both audit and investigative efforts regarding Southwest Asia and the Global War on Terror."
The Pentagon budget increased from slightly more than $400 billion in fiscal 2001 to more than $600 billion in fiscal 2007. Over the next seven years, the inspector general wants about a 25 percent increase in his staff, from about 1,500 at present to near 1,900 in 2013, to monitor the spending.
Last week, an inspector general's report to a House committee showed that $1.4 billion in spending between 2001 and 2006 "lacked minimum supporting documentation." For example, it said, a $320 million cash payment by U.S. military officials to an Iraqi ministry had no backup material identifying the ministry or the employees paid.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, which ordered the report last year, has recommended adding $26 million for the inspector general's office in the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill that is now before Congress.
The report says that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have "forced us to adjust priorities, resulting in gaps in coverage in important areas such as major weapon systems acquisition, wrongdoing by senior officials, whistleblower protection, health care fraud, product substitution and Defense intelligence agencies."
Even with the shifting of assets, the report said that the inspector general at present deploys only two investigative agents for six-month tours in Baghdad, Kuwait City and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. With additional personnel, Kicklighter could create a field office with a more permanent staff, the report said.
"The Pentagon's top cop is outgunned, and it's high noon," said Nick Swellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight, the nonprofit watchdog group that released the inspector general's report.
The report said Kicklighter's office is "not able to provide adequate audit coverage of DoD acquisition programs given the dollars expended by the department." It noted that for major weapons contracts that totaled $316 billion in fiscal 2007, resources allowed the auditing of just 58 programs valued at $164 billion.
As Pentagon contracting has increased, the number of auditors in the field has decreased, according to the report. In fiscal 2003, when the total value of Pentagon contracts was about $240 billion, the inspector general had about 180 auditors to review them. In fiscal 2007, when the contracts' value reached more than $300 billion, the number of auditors had dropped to about 150, according to the report.
"Oversight of DoD contracts needs to be strengthened," the report said.
In addition, the number of allegations of wrongdoing by senior Pentagon officials and reprisal complaints received from whistle-blowers has "greatly increased over the past years," the inspector general reported, while the staff in his office available to handle such complaints has "remained static or decreased."
Complaints of reprisals against military whistle-blowers have increased 68 percent in 10 years, from 315 to 528, but staffing to receive the complaints has decreased from 22 to 19, he said.
The report said that "18% of substantiated allegations against senior officials resulted in immediate removal from command, reprimands, reduction in rank and reimbursement to the government."
With 40 full-time employees in the intelligence field, the report said, "we have not been able to perform planned audits and evaluations in key intelligence disciplines." It cited intelligence satellites that gather imagery, electronic and other transmissions and cost billions of dollars to construct and operate.