Editorial

Funny business

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

It was bad enough that Pentagon auditors fingered Halliburton, a huge defense contractor once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, for overcharging the Army $61 million for gasoline in Iraq.

Now Pentagon auditors themselves are being accused of cooking their own books.

A review team from the U.S. inspector general's office says Pentagon auditors in New York -- along with administrative staff, audit supervisors and other employees -- fabricated documents from several audits to make themselves look good during the review.

In fact, the New York office engaged in so much fabrication that it brought in additional auditors from other offices to help.

There is some comfort in knowing that the funny business was detected and that administrative penalties have been imposed.

The manager who directed the alterations quit before he was penalized. Another management officials was punished.

According to the inspector general's review, the New York auditors thought "upgrading" the documentation was a normal and acceptable practice.

Indeed, the doctoring of paperwork continued even after the review team showed up.

But wait. There's more.

The inspector general's office has had a bad patch too.

In 2001 the Associated Press reported that the inspector general's office destroyed documents and replaced them with fakes to avoid an embarrassing review of its own.

The fact that Pentagon auditors mirror, in many ways, the cavalier attitudes so prevalent in recent corporate financial shenanigans in no way diminishes the Halliburton findings.

But the layers of improprieties in this case call the government's ability to monitor itself into serious question.

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