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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fiscal mess awaits new defense chief

Gates inherits 'worst-managed' federal agency

Iraq isn't the only pressing issue Robert Gates will face when he becomes the 22nd U.S. defense secretary on Monday.

High on his list of priorities will likely be the enormous task of cleaning up the Pentagon's tangled finances, which outside auditors lambaste as so chaotic that no one knows how much money is being spent on defense at any given time.

At Gates' confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., told him that the White House's Office of Management and Budget believes the Pentagon's financial management systems are in such a mess "that independent auditors still cannot certify the accuracy of the financial statements." Gates said he was not familiar with the full extent of the problems and would study them.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has responsibility for overseeing Pentagon spending, told reporters recently that he will make oversight of financial management a top priority "to make sure that the American people are getting a proper return on their tax dollars and that Pentagon activities are proper, lawful and transparent."

-Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers

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