Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reconcile Headlines

Every month I balance my checkbook to the penny. It’s old-fashioned, but I do it. It stems from a job I had early in my career where I was responsible to reconcile hundreds of bank accounts –a full time job for this conglomerate. On one of the largest accounts – where there were thousands of transactions and some $10 million flowed through the account I got the difference down to $0.50. I was ready to “write off” the difference because it was so small. But my boss wouldn’t let me and I had to start the whole process over. My arguments that the company was spending more in my time to find that $0.50 fell on deaf ears. It had to balance to zero – and I understand why. Every account I’ve dealt with since has fallen into that same level of rigor. The Pentagon would never hire me. It was revealed that $6.5 TRILLION – with a T – has gone missing.

The Pentagon has never balanced its books. I’ve written about this before. Apalling but #notnews. The new discovery is from the Department of Defense itself. It’s Inspector Generals report summarizes how bad the problem is:

Per the Fiscal Times: “The Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the behemoth Indianapolis-based agency that provides finance and accounting services for the Pentagon’s civilian and military members, could not provide adequate documentation for $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments to Army general fund transactions and data.”

The article continues: “There’s nothing in the new IG’s report to suggest that anyone has misplaced or absconded with large sums of money. Rather, the agency has done an incompetent job of providing written authorization for every one of their transactions – so-called “journal vouchers” that provide serial numbers, transaction dates and the amount of the expenditure.”

This is not a new problem. Reuters published a scathing analysis in 2013 called “Unaccountable.” Part of the story reads: “For two decades, the U.S. military has been unable to submit to an audit, flouting federal law and concealing waste and fraud totaling billions of dollars. Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the U.S. Department of Defense’s accounts.”

Congress, never one to be too rigorous on the Military Industrial Complex has even drawn a line in the sand demanding that the books be balanced by September 30, 2017. President Reagan tried that too to no success.

You’d think that $6.5 TRILLION dollars not being allocated would be a big deal. There are entire television networks dedicated to frothing over sums that are much smaller with much less impact. It’s a HUUUUGE amount of money. The military is woven into the fabric of the American economy. However the money is being spent it needs to be reported on. That’s one of the key tenets of democracy, transparency and common sense.

The real outrage, however, is in the public discourse. There isn’t any. Congress has held hearings on a wide range of nonsense issues has not turned up the heat on $6.5 TRILLION dollars not being accounted for.

This seems tailor made for cable TV, doesn’t it? Fox News should have dark music accompanying a fancy graphic with anchors warning about the threat to the republic’s safety since we don’t know where the money is. MSNBC personnel should be bouncing up and down pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of Republicans who claim to be fiscally conservative but can’t find $6.5 TRILLION dollars. CNN should have panel after panel repeatedly asking the same question of each other and shaking their heads: “where IS the money?” and then spending an hour speculating on where it might be.

The leading newspapers seem ripe for a deep delve into what happened. Wikileaks would continue its public service by shedding some light on missing documents.

A Google Search with the keywords “pentagon $6.5 trillion” revealed a number of online stories. None were from major media outlets. It’s not trending on social media. The report was released on the last Friday in July – hardly a high news day.

Do Americans care that $6.5 TRILLION dollars can’t be accounted for? I think so. I think most Americans would be flat out infuriated. I think most Americans would want to know what the candidates for President and other federal offices think.

The role of the media – the fifth estate – is to explore things like this. $6.5 TRILLION dollars. The Pentagon. Graft? Corruption? Maybe just incompetence? What a wonderful, juicy and important story that could be told at a time when Americans are engaged in multiple military conflicts around the globe. Let’s reconcile the headlines and get to the bottom of this story. Or at least let's get the story.

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