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DoD report faults Air Force accounting in war against ISIS

A Defense Department Inspector General’s report has found that the U.S. Air Force issued “unreliable and outdated” cost reports for its operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria by failing to account for $448 million in obligations and payments.

The report says the Air Force “inaccurately represented” its costs in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, “underreporting $237.9 million in obligations and $209.9 million in disbursements.”

The report says operations and maintenance costs – largely related to air missions against ISIS - were off by $237.8 million, while it didn’t account for $209.8 million in payments made during the quarter.

In addition, the Air Force failed to properly account for $70,000 in payments to the survivors of deceased military personnel, and over $50,000 spent for research and development.

The report says Air Force accountants did not have “adequate controls over the processing and reporting” of costs and payments because of inaccurate or incomplete data.

The Inspector General also found the Air Force filed its reports an average of 125 days late, far beyond the 45 days mandated under federal law, because the Air Force’s deputy comptroller “prioritized other tasks ahead of the [Cost of War] report,” and used “manual processes to prepare the summary tables and charts” for the report, which compounded delays.

 “As a result,” the report says, “the Deputy Comptroller issued unreliable and outdated [Cost of War]” reports. The Inspector General said this “diminished the relevance of the information provided" to the Government Accountability Office for its audits of the Defense Department’s Overseas Contingency Operations, of which the fight against ISIS is a part, and for Congress to use in making budget decisions.

Until these problems fixed, the report warns, “there is a significant risk that the Air Force [Operation Inherent Resolve] costs presented in the [Cost of War] report will continue to be unreliable,” and without proper manpower and resources devoted to preparing the reports, they will “continue to represent outdated contingency operations costs.”

The Air Force agreed with the report’s findings, saying it is “aware of the discrepancies that exist between certain line items in the source data as compared to the reported data,” and is working to correct those problems.

The Air Force said it will adopt new operating procedures and oversight methods to catch errors more quickly, properly account for costs and payments, and streamline the reporting process. It plans to have the bulk of the new programs in place next month.

According to Department of Defense figures, U.S. forces have spent $7.5 billion on operations targeting ISIS between Aug. 8, 2014, when Operation Inherent Resolve got underway, and May 15, 2016.

The Air Force spent an average of $7.9 million a day on operations during that period, or 67 percent of total operations expenditures.