Boom Times for Sellers of $600 Toilet Seats


As you're preparing the details of your financial life for inspection, consider the Pentagon's accounting skills:

The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it's virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department's brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can't be…

Until the Pentagon can get its records in order, no comprehensive audit is required. Instead, the department writes each year to the inspector general certifying that "material amounts" in its financial reports can't be substantiated.

That it can't be audited "goes to the heart of the department's credibility," says Dov Zakheim, who was Defense Department chief financial officer and comptroller under Rumsfeld. "Nobody would trust even a half-million-dollar enterprise if its books weren't clean."

The Pentagon has repeatedly assured Congress that it is working toward an audit. Yet the projected date continues to slip further away. In 1995, Pentagon officials testified that it could be audited by 2000. In 2006, an audit wasn't envisioned until 2016.

That's from a Portfolio piece called "The Pentagon's $1 Trillion Problem." Veronique de Rugy's fantastic May cover story—"The Trillion-Dollar War"—will make you just as excited to pay your taxes.