Delaware Sen. Tom Carper says he gets it. He wrote in a letter Thursday to Secretary Panetta that he understands that everything has to be on the ubiquitous “table,” in the face of potential spending reductions, but he also suggested that the Pentagon can do a much better job of eliminating waste and becoming more efficient — which could mean big savings.
But Carper didn’t just leave it there. In his letter to Panetta, he laid down a bulleted list of recent places where he’s seen details about DoD waste, and made clear that he thinks that if the department can get its act together, it could effectively recoup billions of dollars. Wrote Carper:
• The DOD Inspector General recently released a report on the Department’s inability to recoup about $200 million in delinquent debts due to poor, but basic, record keeping. Some of these debts were incurred years ago but have yet to see collection.
• The DOD’s Inspector General also released two reports this year describing how the Army has overpaid millions of dollars for spare parts. For an $8.00 helicopter door part, for example, the DOD paid $284.00. In another instance, the Army paid five times too much for a $1,500.00 rotor part that turned out to already have been in stock in the military warehouses.
• Both DOD documents and GAO’s work have shown that, at any given time, there is roughly a billion dollars in spare parts on order that the Department simply does not need, but the Pentagon inventory system doesn’t allow for the order to be changed. This is in addition to the tens of billions of dollars in unneeded spare parts already in the military warehouses.
• USA Today recently reported that the DOD racked up $720 million in late fees for shipping container leases by not returning the containers on time. This $720 million in late fees was on top of the cost of the actual lease.
• The Commission on Wartime Contracting found earlier this month that there was an estimated $31 billion to $60 billion in DOD waste and fraud related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Commission further described these losses as largely avoidable.
• The GAO has also detailed billions of dollars in cost-overruns for major weapon systems. The GAO noted that several factors, including major inefficiencies in the defense acquisition system, have led to $402 billion in total major weapon system cost overruns. This total is up from $42 billion in Fiscal Year 2000 and $295 billion in Fiscal Year 2007.
Billions and billions and billions — it all starts to sound like Carl Sagan math. And the problem for Carper and other waste-hounds is that there is no single leak under this giant machine where you could just set a bucket to catch the runoff. There are a thousand pinholes in the pipework from which all these dollars run off, and each one is located in a different service or division or location across the Corporation. As we saw with this week’s industrial capacity report, you can only have so much effect with top-down orders or policies.
That doesn’t mean DoD can’t get better, but the nature of the problem means that the Pentagon’s leadership realizes it’s easier to try to keep the spigot wide open than to try to knuckle down about waste and efficiency.