Although it has assets and liabilities greater than Wal-Mart, IBM and Exxon combined, the Defense Department is fighting a push by Congress to create a new post of chief management officer for the Pentagon.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England contends that "the department already has a lot of structure." If anything, he told a House panel last week, "we have too much structure, and we have a lot of rules and regulations that we go by."
England, who is responsible for day-to-day financial management of the Defense Department, insisted that he already has sufficient authority and personnel, and that he doesn't require congressional intervention.
Some members of Congress think otherwise.
A Senate proposal would add another bureaucratic layer beneath England, creating the post of undersecretary of defense for management. The House has passed a similar proposal.
Congressional advocates of the new chief management position point out that the department frequently has been criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon's inspector-general for poor management, faulty accounting systems that make it difficult, if not impossible, to track taxpayer money, and routine billion-dollar cost overruns on weapons.
In November 2006, David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, issued a devastating assessment of the Defense Department's financial problems, saying they "are pervasive, complex, long-standing, and deeply rooted in virtually all business operations throughout."
The financial management problems limit the ability of Pentagon managers "to receive the full range of information needed to effectively manage day-to-day operations," Walker wrote. These weaknesses hurt the ability of the department "to control costs, ensure basic accountability, anticipate future costs and claims on the budget, measure performance, maintain funds control, prevent fraud, and address pressing management issues," among other crucial measures, Walker said.
The Defense Department acknowledges the accounting failures and that it has failed since 1990 to pass an independent audit, something required of federal agencies under a law passed by Congress that year. England told the House panel last week that the department will require as much as 10 years of further tweaks to accounting systems before auditors can certify the accuracy of its financial statements.