They are the few…the proud…and apparently really bad at bookkeeping.  For some reason, the United States Marine Corps has misplaced a whopping $800 million of the taxpayers’ money – and they cannot explain where it went. In fact, the entire Department of Defense (DoD) has been having difficulty balancing its books for years – and the Pentagon keeps putting it off.

Under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, every federal agency is required to pass an audit of its accounts every six months. However, the DoD is apparently exempt from this requirement. Every time an audit comes up, the Pentagon requests a five-year extension – and then another…and another.

And instead of holding the Pentagon accountable, Congress continues to increase its budget to the point that U.S. military spending is greater than that of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, and India combined. This year, the Pentagon’s budget is projected to be almost $600 billion.  That represents a whopping 54% of discretionary spending for 2015 (by comparison, Food & Agriculture gets about 1% of the pie).

And what are we, the taxpayers, getting for our money? We don’t know. We aren’t supposed to ask, because they won’t tell.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Marine Corps’ books were audited by the international accounting firm of Grant Thornton, the sixth largest such company in the world. The firm was paid $32 million for its services. Last year, Grant Thornton completed its report on USMC accounts. The report was certified, and the DoD signed off on it. All seemed well – until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found an $800 million hole. The USMC is unable to explain it.

It also appears that Defense Department Deputy Inspector General Daniel Blair had a relationship with a partner at Grant Thornton, based on a record of some email communications.  To GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, those emails “suggest a professional relationship that was far too cozy.” Allegedly, Blair told his DoD colleagues to “do what it takes” in order to make certain the Marines’ accounts matched the Grant Thornton audit report.

To Senator Grassley, this is a demonstration of “how undue influence and bias trumped objectivity and independence.”  About the DoD, Senator Grassley adds that the Pentagon  “dishes out over $500 billion a year yet still can’t tell the people where all the money is going.”

Grassley’s colleague, Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, agrees.  He admits that “our defense dollars are not always spent in a cost-effective manner.”  He says the current situation “raises questions about the Department’s basic financial practices.”

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.