A just-released Government Accountability Office report states that the agency "cannot render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations," particularly at the Pentagon. Further, according to the statement:
"Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government's consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management. Shortcomings in three areas again prevented us from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based financial statements," said Gene Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States.
The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government's inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government's ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements. . . .
Dodaro also cited material weaknesses involving an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that three major agencies-DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor-did not get clean opinions. Nineteen of 24 major agencies did get clean opinions on all their statements.
"Given the federal government's fiscal challenges, it's imperative that Congress, the administration, and federal managers have reliable, useful, and timely financial and performance information. Improved accuracy and transparency in financial reporting are urgently needed," Dodaro said.
Here are some more DOD-related excerpts from the GAO Auditor's Report:
Property, Plant, and Equipment and Inventories and Related Property
The federal government could not satisfactorily determine that property, plant, and equipment (PP&E) and inventories and related property were properly reported in the accrual-based consolidated financial statements. Most of the PP&E and inventories and related property are the responsibility of the Department of Defense (DOD). As in past years, DOD did not maintain adequate systems or have sufficient records to provide reliable information on these assets. Other entities, most notably the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, reported continued deficiencies in internal control procedures and processes related to PP&E.
Deficiencies in internal control over such assets could affect the federal government’s ability to fully know the assets it owns, including their location and condition, and its ability to effectively (1) safeguard assets from physical deterioration, theft, or loss; (2) account for acquisitions and disposals of such assets and reliably report asset balances; (3) ensure that the assets are available for use when needed; (4) prevent unnecessary storage and maintenance costs or purchase of assets already on hand; and (5) determine the full costs of programs that use these assets.
Liabilities and Commitments and Contingencies
The federal government could not reasonably estimate or adequately support amounts reported for certain liabilities. For example, DOD was not able to estimate with assurance key components of its environmental and disposal liabilities. In addition, DOD could not support a significant amount of its estimated military postretirement health benefits liabilities included in federal employee and veteran benefits payable. These unsupported amounts related to the cost of direct health care provided by DOD-managed military treatment facilities. Further, the federal government could not determine whether commitments and contingencies, including any related to treaties and other international agreements entered into to further the federal government’s interests, were complete and properly reported.
Problems in accounting for liabilities affect the determination of the full cost of the federal government’s current operations and the extent of its liabilities. Also, deficiencies in internal control supporting the process for estimating environmental and disposal liabilities could result in improperly stated liabilities as well as adversely affect the federal government’s ability to determine priorities for cleanup and disposal activities and to appropriately consider future budgetary resources needed to carry out these activities. In addition, if disclosures of commitments and contingencies are incomplete or incorrect, reliable information is not available about the extent of the federal government’s obligations.
Cost of Government Operations and Disbursement Activity
The previously discussed material weaknesses in reporting assets and liabilities, material weaknesses in financial statement preparation, as discussed below, and the lack of adequate disbursement reconciliations at certain federal entities affect reported net costs. As a result, the federal government was unable to support significant portions of the total net cost of operations, most notably those related to DOD.
With respect to disbursements, DOD and certain other federal entities reported continued material weaknesses and significant deficiencies in reconciling disbursement activity. For fiscal years 2009 and 2008, there was unreconciled disbursement activity, including unreconciled differences between federal entities’ and the Department of Treasury’s (Treasury) records of disbursements and unsupported federal entity adjustments, totaling billions of dollars, which could also affect the balance sheet.
Unreliable cost information affects the federal government’s ability to control and reduce costs, assess performance, evaluate programs, and set fees to recover costs where required or authorized. If disbursements are improperly recorded, this could result in misstatements in the financial statements and in certain data provided by federal entities for inclusion in The Budget of the United States Government (President’s Budget) concerning obligations and outlays.