Cost of War on Terrorism Should Not Be Hidden

By Joseph Straw, Assistant Editor

A review of U.S. military spending for the global war on terror (GWOT) finds that the Pentagon should be far more thorough and transparent in its accounting and that it should fund its core needs in its annual budget, rather than through periodic supplemental spending bills for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to congressional overseers acknowledges improvements in cost reporting by the Department of Defense (DoD), but it finds that prominent omissions remain.

Some examples: a $1.5 billion obligation to the Marine Corps was omitted from a DoD report to Congress, which GAO determined was the result of inadequate oversight. In other cases, capital expenses like new weapons systems have crept into supplemental funding requests, which are intended to fund operations.

From 9-11 through May of this year, more than half a trillion dollars—$542.9 billion—was spent on the GWOT, roughly $10.6 billion per month. This year’s troop “surge” in Iraq brings projected costs for the current fiscal year to $189.3 billion, roughly double the $95.4 billion of the prior year.

The GAO asserts that if the GWOT is, as the Pentagon itself claims, a “long war,” then the expenses should be reflected in annual budget requests:

If the administration believes the nation is engaged in a long-term conflict, the implications should be considered during annual budget deliberations. Continuing to fund GWOT through emergency requests reduces transparency and avoids the necessary reexamination of commitments, investment priorities, and trade-offs.

GAO recommends stricter analysis of changes in cost “obligations,” and more thorough “affirimation” of those changes—basically requiring that DoD officials explicitly sign off on changes from budget projections and requests.

That, GAO suggests, can be done through more explicit “affirmation” policies, and by providing draft spending reports to internal agencies for formal approval and explanation.  Chronic problems must be tracked and addressed, the letter states.

DoD “generally agreed” with the recommendations, according to GAO.



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