Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is disputing the contention made by the chairman and ranking member of a Senate oversight committee that it could be wasting billions of dollars through inadequate accounting of its bullets and missiles.
Sens. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat and the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the ranking Republican, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, called on the Pentagon to develop a schedule to modernize its ammunition inventory systems, writing that the antiquated methods lead to "millions, if not billions, of dollars in wasteful purchases."
In April, the Government Accountability Office found that the military's poor tracking of its $70 billion worth of conventional ammunition had left it with an extensive stockpile destined for destruction, including some munitions that could still be used by troops. For instance, the GAO found instances in which troops retrieved workable missiles from its scrap heap to meet their needs. Another problem: the services' inventory systems cannot share data directly despite working for decades to develop a single database.
The result: potential waste of taxpayer dollars, according to the GAO.
There may be some waste, Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said, but not on the scale alleged by the senators. He also rejected the implication that the military destroys usable ammunition.
"The Department of Defense is not wasting millions or billions of dollars on ammunition purchases," Wright said in a statement. "The GAO report fairly states the (Defense Department) is not as efficient as it could be if conventional ammunition information technology systems were modernized."
The Pentagon has a $15.9 billion stockpile of ammunition awaiting destruction, Wright said. Those munitions are obsolete, unusable or their use is banned by international treaty. It will cost $1 billion to dispose of them.
Carper and Coburn called on the Pentagon in a letter dated June 17 to develop a plan by July 30 for improving its inventory systems. Carper urged the changes to prevent "shortchanging our war fighters." Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., also signed the letter.
"The GAO showed us that our military's antiquated systems lead to millions of dollars in wasteful ammunition purchases," Carper said in a statement. "Now it's up to the (Pentagon) to follow through with GAO's recommendations and efficiently manage its ammunition stocks."
The problems with ammunition reflect the Department. of Defense's poor stewardship of tax dollars, Coburn said.
"The DoD's continued mismanagement of supply chain inventories are just symptoms of the core issue of poor financial management at the department," Coburn said. "Until DoD fundamentally changes the way it manages its business, we will continue to see millions wasted needlessly due to poor internal controls and mismanagement, with little accountability for such waste."
The Pentagon plans to make a decision on developing a single database for ammunition for all the services by the end of September, Wright said.