The Air Force has $11-billion more in equipment and supplies than it needs, partly because its books have been bad for decades and there's no way to tell what's in warehouses, the head of the General Accounting Office says.
"When the people can't rely upon the records .
. they do the safe thing. They order more," Comptroller General Charles Bowsher told a Senate Committee on Wednesday. "It's something that costs the American taxpayer a lot of money."
The Air Force testified that it was working on record-keeping problems and would be making the changes recommended in a series of GAO audits.
In August, the Air Force opened a new office in Denver, "staffed with experienced accountants," and a training program is under way, Michael Donley, the Air Force's comptroller, testified.
Bowsher said the Air Force was targeted for close scrutiny because of its reputation of having better bookkeeping records than the other services. He predicted other military audits would show similar problems.
The GAO found the Air Force didn't know exactly what was in its inventory, and records were so bad that multimillion-dollar items were listed in the books as worthless.
The GAO also said that Air Logistics Center staff routinely made false entries so their books would balance.
Audits of four Air Logistics Centers led the GAO to estimate that inventory records were off by about 18.3 percent.
At the Logistics Center in Ogden, Utah, the staff told GAO investigators they ignored errors so higher-ups wouldn't have to be told about them.
One of the those errors was a $1.31-million miscount in the number of missile launchers Ogden had. The GAO counted 640; the Logistics Center's count was 579.
Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, who ordered the GAO reports, said military bookkeeping needs to be accurate "for both national security and fairness to the taxpayer. We need to ensure that the Pentagon gets what it pays for, knows what it has, and knows what it needs."
Glenn is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which will hear testimony from Air Force and Pentagon officials.
In a written reply to the GAO, the Pentagon said it has put into place a series of "short-term fixes" to improve the reliability of Air Force financial information.
It also said inventory problems are not as bad as GAO believes.
"Many of the variances in inventory balances are corrected through day-to-day supply operations," Defense Department Deputy Comptroller Alvin Tucker wrote.