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Sunday Talk: Grassley on Protecting Taxpayers and Military Readiness

Q: What motivates your decades-long mission as a Pentagon watchdog?


A: The number one priority of the federal government is national security and keeping the American people safe. The Reagan doctrine identified “peace through strength” that guided foreign policy and military modernization efforts during the 1980s. However, military spending doesn’t guarantee military readiness. If the spending spigot is wide open without fiscal accountability and bookkeeping controls in place, taxpayers get fleeced and defense contractors enrich themselves at their expense. Every defense dollar lost to wasteful spending is a dollar squandered for our troops and military readiness. In my first term as a U.S. Senator, I worked to freeze defense spending. From my work with patriotic whistleblowers, I learned defense contractors were bilking systemic incompetence at the Department of Defense. Taxpayers were on the hook for wasteful spending on weapons systems and spare parts. That’s when I spilled the beans on the $7,000 coffee pot. It’s plain Midwestern common sense that $999 for a pair of pliers is highway robbery. The Grassley amendment to the 1986 budget resolution froze President Reagan’s massive defense build-up. It showed the Pentagon can’t be a sacred cow for federal spending or a cash cow for defense contractors.


Under seven administrations, I have worked to ride herd on the Pentagon’s lax financial controls to ensure defense dollars appropriated for the troops, military readiness and our nation’s security are spent as intended. From one Congress to the next, I conduct tireless oversight to root out mismanagement and expose waste, fraud and abuse. Iowans work hard for their money and I work hard to protect every penny and get the most bang for the buck. For decades, I’ve worked to help fix the Pentagon’s broken bookkeeping system to prevent theft, errors and price gouging. Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990 that required each agency to present a financial statement for audit. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize its accounting systems, the Department of Defense has never achieved a clean opinion. I’ll keep working to hold the line on wasteful spending and get the Pentagon on the right fiscal track. As long as the Pentagon Can’t Count, defense dollars are ripe for waste, fraud and abuse. With emerging military and intelligence threats from our global competitors and adversaries, we need to make every defense dollar count.


Q: What’s your most recent Pentagon oversight work?


A: The Pentagon’s elusive path to fiscal stewardship is littered with sticker shock, including $14,000 toilet-seat lids and $1,280 coffee cups. Most recently, it’s hit another bump in the road and I’m working to get to the bottom of it. News reports have exposed price gouging by U.S. defense contractors that’s costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. I joined a bipartisan letter urging Secretary of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to launch a thorough investigation regarding sole source contracts that allow defense contractors to pad excess profits of 40 to 50 percent. One of the private contractors is TransDigm, whose overpriced contracts I have hounded the Pentagon about for years. According to reports, these companies are exploiting their position as sole suppliers for certain items to increase prices far above inflation or reasonable profit margin. In fact, a 2019 Inspector General audit found excess profits of up to 4,436% on TransDigm parts. This is an abuse of public trust and it’s long overdue for the Department of Defense to step up to the plate. The Pentagon can’t keep turning a blind eye to price gouging and expect Congress and the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending. About half of the $800-plus billion annual defense budget goes to defense contractors. The American people expect the Pentagon to prime the pump for combat readiness, not pump up profits for contractors using flawed procurement processes. The taxpayer foots the defense bill to protect national security, support our men and women in uniform and uphold the sovereignty of the United States. As a government watchdog, I’ll keep fighting to hold the Pentagon accountable to the American people and the Constitution, including my bipartisan efforts to ensure former service members who take lucrative jobs with foreign governments aren’t compromising national security interests.


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