A costly and lengthy effort by the Pentagon to bring its financial ledgers up to modern standards continues to encounter serious problems, according to a new General Accountability Office report that spotlights shortcomings in accounting software now being tested by the Army and the Air Force.
The software, developed at a pricetag of $2.665 billion since 2003, was meant to streamline archaic, hand-written ledger accounting practices and enable the services to meet a 2017 legal deadline for producing their first, auditable financial statements. But the GAO's report, released on March 29, cites a series of weaknesses that have produced inaccurate data, “an inability to generate auditable financial reports, and the need for manual workarounds.”
The GAO based its assessment on its own research as well as internal Army and Air Force reviews that it said had confirmed problems existed in “data quality, data conversion, system interfaces, and training.” The troubles were evident in trials that so far involve only a fraction of the estimated 529,000 Army and Air Force employees that are slated to use the software while monitoring $471 billion worth of spending or inventory every year.
The aim of upgrading to modern software was partly to save money, since the Pentagon’s legacy accounting systems are numerous — there are 2,258 of them — and frequently incompatible. By all accounts, they cannot produce a clear picture of where and how all that money is being spent.
But the dream of increased efficiencies is looking like just that, as two-thirds of the Army’s financial data still needs to be entered manually into the software, according to the GAO, and specialists have been forced to cut and paste data into spreadsheets and other software so they can create needed reports.