Last year, a Reuters article brought renewed scrutiny to the budgeting practices of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), specifically the U.S. Army, after it was revealed that the department had “lost” $6.5 trillion in 2015 due to “wrongful budget adjustments.” Nearly half of that massive sum, $2.8 trillion, was lost in just one quarter. Reuters noted that the Army “lacked the receipts and invoices to support those numbers [the adjustments] or simply made them up” in order to “create an illusion that its books are balanced.”
Officially, the DOD has acknowledged that its financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated.” However, this was hardly the first time the department had been caught falsifying its accounting or the first time the department had mishandled massive sums of taxpayer money.
The cumulative effect of this mishandling of funds is the subject of a new report authored by Dr. Mark Skidmore, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, and Catherine Austin Fitts, former assistant secretary of housing.
Their findings are shocking.
“Losing” the equivalent of the national debt
The report, which examined in great detail the budgets of both the DOD and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), found that between 1998 and 2015 these two departments alone lost over $21 trillion in taxpayer funds. The funds lost were a direct result of “unsupported journal voucher adjustments” made to the departments’ budgets.
According to the Office of the Comptroller, “unsupported journal voucher adjustments” are defined as “summary-level accounting adjustments made when balances between systems cannot be reconciled. Often these journal vouchers are unsupported, meaning they lack supporting documentation to justify the adjustment [receipts, etc.] or are not tied to specific accounting transactions.” The report notes that, in both the private and public sectors, the presence of such adjustments is considered “a red flag” for potential fraud.
The amount of money lost is truly staggering. As co-author Fitts noted in an interview with USA Watchdog, the amount unaccounted for over this 17 year period amounts to “$65,000 for every man, woman and child resident in America.” By comparison, the cost per taxpayer of all U.S. wars waged since 9/11 has been $7,500 per taxpayer. The sum is also enough to cover the entire U.S. national debt, which broke $20 trillion less than a month ago, and still have funds left over.
What’s more, the actual amount of funds lost — measured at $21 trillion – is likely to be much higher, as the researchers were unable to recover data for every year over the period, meaning the assessment is incomplete.