A Billion Here, A Billion There

By Jack Edwards

I hate it when I misplace my keys, so imagine how the Pentagon must have felt when it misplaced $1.3 billion. As in, “Hey guys, where in the heck did we put that $1.3 billion?” You know how you put 20 bucks in your wallet, and then a few days later you look in it and all that’s staring back at you is a lonely dollar bill, and then you start trying to remember where you spent it? That’s what the Pentagon did – except for $1.3 billion.

My reaction was less shock and more “there they go again,” when I read the headline, “Report: Pentagon can’t account for $1.3 billion.” The article was written by James Rosen for the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Mr. Rosen’s article included the following: “A yearlong investigation by John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, found that the Pentagon couldn’t — or wouldn’t — provide basic information about what happened to 6 in 10 dollars of $2.26 billion it had spent over the course of a decade on the Commander’s Emergency Response Program.”

There are roughly 60 million families in the United States who pay federal income tax. Each family coughed up about $22 of the $1.3 billion that the Pentagon turned around and lost at the craps table in Kandahar. I think I can say with confidence that each of these families would much rather have enjoyed that popular 2 for $20 deal at Applebee’s. (Who can resist that boneless chicken wing appetizer?)

Sadly, in a country where tycoons light cigars with $100 bills to celebrate another round of federal subsidy checks for their backbreaking work of NOT growing soybeans, it is unlikely that such a modest accounting error is going to cause any crazed disbelief within the upper echelon of Washington’s political circles.  They are focused on far more important issues, like how to expand the tycoon subsidy program to include paying them to Not grow Applebee’s boneless chicken wings.

But back to the Pentagon’s $1.3 billion, or more accurately, what used to be the Pentagon’s $1.3 billion. Unfortunately, I must speak for all of us who are currently Not being paid to Not work (yes, this is a very awkward phrase. That’s because it includes what we call a “double negative,” another example is “sugar-free, fat-free ice cream”). Back to the Pentagon, I have a suggestion. It’s a popular computer program called QuickBooks. It keeps track of all your income and expenditures. Customers love it. It only costs about $139. But because the Pentagon’s budget is several times larger than most families of four, it might want to consider paying a little extra for the QuickBooks Pro version. And good news for the Pentagon, QuickBooks Pro is on sale right now for only $199.95 (but they need to buy it right away – I don’t know how long this sale is going to last).

If you’ve never used QuickBooks, it’s really simple. It comes with preset categories of expenditures, and all you do is enter things as you go. The best part for the Pentagon, is that you can add specialized categories. So, for example, you can add a category for cash payments to Afghan warlords to cut off the heads of the bad guys instead of our guys (both of whom appear to be pretty interchangeable to your average warlord). This category might be titled, “Warlord Cash Bribes.” As an aside, I don’t have many travel rules that I always follow, but I do have one: Any time I stumble into a country where the term “Warlord” is still part of the common lexicon, I IMMEDIATELY get the H-E-double-toothpicks out of there pronto.

But I digress… Oh yeah, $1.3 billion. Look, it’s the Pentagon. We’re probably making too big a deal out of this. I think that we can all agree that they’ll find it soon.