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SecDef moves up DoD's audit readiness mandate

Surprise! DoD and service financial management officials have been telling lawmakers in hearing after hearing that everything is going just great in getting the department ready for a full audit by 2017. Now they'll get a new chance to prove how good they are, because Secretary Panetta announced Thursday he is moving DoD's new audit target forward to 2014.

House and Senate lawmakers of both parties have kept leaning on the Pentagon to end its dubious distinction as one of just a few agencies in the federal government that cannot undergo a standard audit. Reformers want to root out as much waste, fraud and abuse as possible. Defense advocates make the case that because we don't really know exactly where the Pentagon's money goes, we can't say whether it has enough or whether what it gets is going to the right places. (So maybe, their argument goes, it actually needs more.)

As for the various departments' financial management officials, they say they're on board -- the problem is, they're trying to impose discipline of bureaucracies that are often ill equipped to function well now, let alone give up good details about themselves. We've seen how the Navy Department's comptroller described how her business processes are 'not optimized' to yield clean, consistent data for the bean-counters.

So Panetta's announcement Thursday is sure to be a crowd-pleaser up on the Hill, but that does not change the underlying challenges for DoD's compliance. We've also seen before how DoD and service witnesses acknowledged that even though they might technically cross the goal line of readiness by 2017, that still might not have meant an actual audit before 202o or even 2025. With the goal line moved up to 2014, that would mean a full audit might not appear until 2017 or beyond -- but it's the thought that counts.

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