Fraud is big business at the Pentagon. Always has been, always will be. When you’re spending more than $1 million a minute, some is bound to be pilfered one way or another. But it’s rare to find all such chicanery cataloged in one place. Thanks to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, we now have one-stop shopping for Pentagon fraud.
He asked the Defense Department to pull together data on how military contractors have hoodwinked taxpayers in recent years. The report says the Pentagon spent $270 billion from 2007 to 2009 on 91 contractors involved in civil fraud cases that resulted in judgments of more than $1 million. Another $682 million went to 30 contractors convicted of criminal fraud in the same three-year period. Billions more went to firms that had been suspended or debarred by the Pentagon for misusing taxpayer dollars.
“With the country running a $14 trillion national debt, my goal is to provide as much transparency as possible about what is happening with taxpayer money,” Sanders says. “The sad truth is that virtually all of the major defense contractors in this country for years have been engaged in systemic fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.”
Pentagon contracting has been broken for decades. Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said — on September 10, 2001 — that “according to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.” The next day was 9/11, and counting Pentagon dollars was no longer a top priority.
As someone who has risked his eyesight poring through defense contracts over the years, it’s fair to note the system is cumbersome, complicated and opaque, at least to us common taxpayers. To the contract analysts, accountants and lawyers — especially those who used to work for the government and who now work for these contractors — not so much. They’ve got to pay for all those newspaper and radio ads urging the government to spend more on the military somehow.
As you sit down in the weeks ahead to file your federal tax return, toss out your TurboTax computerized tax program, don’t sleep for two days, and down a half-bottle of Jack Daniel’s before picking up your pencil to fill out your 1040. That’ll give you a rough idea of how the Pentagon keeps track of its — our — money.