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McCain Offers Sympathy to Pentagon Bookkeepers

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) commiserated Tuesday with three nominees who are about to enter, if confirmed, the boundless morass that is the Defense Department's budgeting and acquisition system.

"Truth be told, I do not envy you," McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in his opening statement at a confirmation hearing for David Norquist, Robert Daigle and Elaine McCusker.

The senator rattled off just a few of the fiduciary and accounting -- not to mention political -- problems the nominees will face.

President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 budget is expected to come in $218 billion or so above Budget Control Act spending caps, McCain said.

Not to worry, since Congress is nowhere near passing a fiscal 2018 budget resolution to set the process in motion.

"Each day that Congress does nothing to negotiate a budget deal simply increases the likelihood that the Department of Defense will once again start out the fiscal year under a continuing resolution," McCain said.

Then there's the eternal problem of the audit -- the one that the Defense Department has never been able to do on itself.

"Twenty-seven years ago, the Chief Financial Officers Act was passed and, to this day, the Department of Defense is still not auditable," McCain said. "The Department of Defense is the only department in the federal government which has failed to meet this mandate."

Norquist pledged to end the Pentagon's hitless streak on audits by introducing stern, just-do-it, management know-how. "Starting an audit is a matter of driving change inside a bureaucracy that may resist it," said Norquist, the nominee to be under secretary of defense (comptroller).

Norquist is a partner with Kearney & Company, an accounting firm. He has served in a number of jobs with the federal government over his career, including as chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

He is also the brother of Grover Norquist, who has made a career of hounding members of Congress until they pledge to never, ever raise taxes. "We're very happy your brother is not here today," McCain told him.

McCusker, the nominee to be principal deputy under secretary of defense (comptroller), is the current director, resources and analysis, for Headquarters, U.S. Central Command. In that position, she formerly worked for current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Daigle, the nominee to head the Pentagon's Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), formerly worked for that office in a staff position.

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