Pentagon Can’t Answer A Question Because It Would Cost $660 Million

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Mark Tapscott Executive Editor, Chief of Investigative Group
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Ask the Department of Defense (DOD) how many Hotplugs it has on hand and the answer will require government employees to devote 15 million labor hours to the task at a cost of at least $660 million.

That’s what Oregon software developer Martin Peck was told in response to his July, 2015, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Hotplug is a device used by U.S. military forces whenever they find a functioning enemy laptop on the battlefield that needs to be kept running during transit to analysts.

Hotplugs are also used in the private sector when a server needs to continue functioning while being moved to a new location, according to CRU, the Vancouver, Wash.-based technology firm that designed it and sells it for $549 per unit.

That $660 million could buy some very interesting things, according to CPI’s Lauren Chadwick, including “the Washington Nationals baseball team, a 600-acre island off the coast of Australia, twelve of the most expensive Ferrari race cars, or about as much as the Pentagon is currently spending to train Iraqi soldiers in combat.”

Nobody questions whether the U.S. military, especially in combat, deserves weapons and equipment based on the most advanced and effective technologies available. The official response to Peck’s FOIA regarding the number of Hotplugs owned by the federal government shines new light on an old issue: Why does the Pentagon spend so many tax dollars on things it can’t account for?

“Critics, including those who study modern business practices, say the reply spoke volumes about how poorly the Pentagon keeps track of its own purchasing and contracting,” Chadwick said. “That issue lies at the core of persistent criticisms that the department cannot meet modern accounting standards, a circumstance that critics say opens the door widely for waste, fraud, and abuse in military expenditures.”

The official response to Peck pointed to the Pentagon’s Electronic Documents Access (EDA) system, which went online 18 years ago and now includes an estimated 30 million contracts that include 45 million documents, according to Chadwick

The problem is the EDA can’t do complex text searches, the Pentagon’s FOIA office explained. As a result, responding to Peck’s request could not be done using the “business-as-usual” search techniques described in DOD regulations for responding to FOIA inquiries.

Not being able to track inventory can be costly. Chadwick noted a June, 2015, DOD Inspector General report that said the government spent $6.6 million between July, 2012, and June, 2014, on unneeded spare parts for the workhorse C-130 aircraft.

Another IG report found DOD spent $8.7 million on unneeded spare parts for the V-22 Osprey transporter between August, 2014, and May, 2015.

All federal agencies are required under a 1990 law to pass an annual audit that includes conducting a credible inventory. The Pentagon has never passed the audit.

A solution may be in the offing, however, and it illustrates that opposites can attract even on the presidential campaign trail. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican challenging front-runner Donald Trump, co-sponsors a proposal with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent Socialist competing against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“A bill they have co-sponsored with six other Senators would impose a series of graduated punishments if the Pentagon fails to pass an audit soon,” Chadwick reported.

“These punishments include changing financial management positions if the Department fails to pass an audit for fiscal year 2016, and blocking the Defense Department from upgrading or acquiring certain new weapons if it fails to obtain an audit for fiscal year 2017. The bill has been referred to a committee, but no hearing about it has been scheduled.”

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