By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Defense Department needs to improve its oversight of gifts made to the military, according to a report issued yesterday by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the services are unable to report the totals they receive because records are not centrally managed or tracked.
Under long-standing authority, the services may accept gifts to establish or operate institutions such as schools, hospitals, libraries, museums and cemeteries. In 2006, Congress expanded the authority to include gifts and services to help members of the armed forces or civilian employees wounded in the line of duty, or to aid the dependents and survivors of those killed or wounded.
Between 2005 and 2008, the military services received about $295 million in major gifts or in-kind donations, according to the GAO, but the amount of smaller gifts is unknown because of gaps in reporting.
Among the largest gifts listed were $22.5 million for an Airborne and Special Operations Museum at Fort Bragg, N.C., $34.1 million for museum exhibits and $18.5 million for a brigade sports complex at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Other gifts include $300,000 worth of advertising for the display of the Air Force 60th anniversary logo on a race car at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, and $776,000 in Girl Scout cookies for the Navy.
Pentagon rules require that gifts not reflect poorly on the military's ability to operate objectively. The GAO report did not list any cases of gifts that were improperly accepted by the military, but it did provide several examples of gifts that were rejected.
An offer of a playground and video and computer equipment from an energy exploration company was turned down because the company was seeking additional mineral leases at the installation, which is not named in the report.
In another case, an artist offered her "angel statue as a new American icon [replacing the Statue of Liberty]," according to the report. The artist wanted the military to help establish a corporation and to help pay for sculpting the statue. The angel offer did not fly because the military is prohibited from assisting in the creation of a corporation, the GAO said.
The requirements for gifts to be reviewed for their propriety have in some cases frustrated donors. One group told the GAO that it often takes the military a year or longer to accept gifts for supporting hospitalized service members and visiting family members.
The military services complained that there is no standardized format for reporting gifts, leading to confusion over where the information is to be sent. The GAO recommended that the Defense Department assign responsibility to a single entity in the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
In its response, the Pentagon concurred with the GAO findings and said it is making changes.