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The Pentagon can’t keep track of spare parts, and we’re paying for it

Why it may have been a bad idea for the debt limit deal to spare defense spending from proposed budget cuts.

Military Industrial Complex

Just yesterday, the House passed a bill to lift the debt ceiling. The proposal went to the Senate today, where it’s expected to pass by early next week.

The plan will make cuts to a range of government services, including tax collection and food stamps. But one department appears to have gotten off easy. The Pentagon — which hoovers up roughly half of discretionary spending each year — locked in a 3.2 percent boost to its budget compared to last year.

Given the militarist mood in Washington, it’s not all that surprising that the defense budget was spared. But lawmakers may want to look more closely at what an agency that’s still never passed an audit does with its annual blank check. 

Take, for example, last week’s revelation that defense giant Boeing has refused to give the Department of Defense pricing data for nearly 11,000 items included in a single sole-source contract. In other words, Boeing is charging taxpayers for thousands of parts without actually telling us how much each one costs. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) noted in an open letter to the Pentagon, this isn’t exactly a recipe for financial discipline.

“This is a deeply troubling finding that reveals these contractors’ contempt for the Department and the taxpayers,” Warren and Garamendi wrote. “These denials make it impossible for DoD officials to make sure the agency is not being ripped off.”

As the lawmakers note, accurate pricing data has made a significant difference in previous contracts. In one case involving helicopter parts, the Pentagon was able to reduce the value of a contract by 25 percent after it got accurate numbers from the contractor, saving taxpayers roughly $40 million.

With defense budgets continuing to soar each year, DoD has little incentive to start looking between the couch cushions. But, as a new Government Accountability Office report revealed, officials may be surprised by what they find.

According to GAO, Lockheed Martin has lost nearly 2 million F-35 spare parts — worth a collective $151 million — since 2018. So where did they end up? Don’t ask the Pentagon. As the report notes, the F-35’s program office has only looked into about 20,000 of these lost parts. It’s no wonder that the total cost of acquiring these shiny new planes has gone up by $20.5 billion since 2012.

So what happens when you give an agency seemingly infinite money and minimal oversight? Apparently, it just hands the cash over to massive defense contractors. No wonder their profits keep soaring to new highs.

(phanurak rubpol/shutterstock)
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