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Monday, September 17, 2012

Pentagon at 'midfield' in bid for clean books, officials say

Invoking a Washington Redskins football metaphor, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said the Defense Department is at “midfield” in its effort to meet deadlines for auditability of its financial statements, “but we’ve just got Robert Griffin III, and we’ve got the ball and we’ve got momentum,” he told a House panel Friday.

The department and all the military services are struggling to meet a congressional requirement for clean books by 2017, along with a tighter deadline of 2014 laid down by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. At a hearing before the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Chairman Rob Wittman, R-Va., asked five top officials for progress reports on the efforts of a department with, he noted, $700 billion in net operating costs and $12 trillion in assets.

Hale said he was “reasonably confident” of meeting the twin goals, but added he could make no guarantees. “We’ve been humbled by what’s coming in the next two years, and we’ve overpromised and underdelivered before,” he said. But Congress, he added pointedly, has “sapped some of the time we have for achieving readiness” with its continuing budget stalemate, which has required Hale and his team to execute “four shutdown drills and plan for things that don’t end up happening.”

Asked whether he favored the Audit the Pentagon Act sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., which, among other provisions, would threaten to move Defense auditing functions to the Treasury Department, Hale said he did not. “It would have the opposite effect than intended,” he said, saying Defense employees need such day-to-day operations in-house.

Hale and other witnesses noted that sections of each of the services have achieved audit readinesses, mentioning the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and several specific programs. The Marines are viewed as a model in the effort.
Charles S. Clark, GovExec.com
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