The US Department of Defense does not have a clue of what happened to $8.5 trillion of tax money handed over by Congress since 1996, a Reuters investigation by Scot Paltrow said.
In almost 20 years, the Pentagon has never accounted for trillions it spent, in part because "plugging"-fudging the numbers-is standard operating procedure.
According to the investigation, employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon's primary accounting agency, were routinely told by superiors to take "unsubstantiated change actions." These plugs-which amounted to falsifying the books-were used to bring the military's figures in line with the Treasury's when discrepancies couldn't be traced and accounted for. According to DFAS employee, Linda Woodford, "A lot of times there were issues of numbers being inaccurate. We didn't have the detail . . . for a lot of it." This so-called plugging isn't unique to DFAS-when it comes to resolving lost or missing information, it's just business as usual in every branch of the service.
When it was announced that the military's budget would be cut by $52 billion in 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had a fit, telling a defense conference: "[The cuts are] too deep, too steep, and too abrupt. This is an irresponsible way to govern and it forces the department into a very bad set of choices." This is quite befuddling to the rest of us, as the $581 billion budget that year was more than the total of the next 10 biggest spenders combined-including Russia, China, and even Saudi Arabia (whose military budget made up 10.7% of their total GDP). In fact, the US budget was a full one-third of the entire amount spent on defense worldwide. If the DoD is this concerned about losing money to budget cuts, perhaps it should consider tackling its own systemic irresponsibility and discern what, precisely, $8.5 trillion in taxpayer funds has already paid for.
Many of the problems occurred in simple bookkeeping errors rather than actual financial losses. This was the case of one Columbus, Ohio DFAS office whose duplicate entries across multiple ledgers led to errors in financial reports for the Air Force in 2009, totaling $1.59 trillion-trillion-including $538 billion for plugs, which amounts to roughly 8 times what was allotted for the entire Air Force budget that year.