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Chastened Pentagon promises better ammo count

May. 27, 2014 - 11:31AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Prodded by Congress, the Pentagon has promised a better count of its bullets and missiles, according to congressional staff.

The urgency to account for ammunition follows a critical report last month by the Government Accountability Office about the military's inventory systems. USA Today reported that the Pentagon plans to destroy more than $1 billion worth of munitions, although some bullets and missiles in that stockpile could still be used by troops.

Defense Department officials told Congress they intend to follow through on the office's recommendations to update their inventory systems, according to a staff member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The staffer was not authorized to speak on the record because the Pentagon has not yet announced the decision.

Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat who chairs the committee, plans to follow closely the Pentagon's progress on sorting through its massive $70 billion stockpile of conventional ammunition. That arsenal consists of everything from 9mm bullets for handguns to Hellfire missiles that are fired from drones.

Last month, Carper criticized the Pentagon's bookkeeping, saying, "We simply cannot afford this type of waste and ineffectiveness." The losses for taxpayers could total "millions if not billions of dollars," Carper said.

A House measure aimed at modernizing the ammunition inventory system, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier of California and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, was approved as part of the Defense Authorization Act. Late in the week, the Senate passed a similar measure in its authorization bill.

A key issue for the military is moving all the services to a common system for tracking ammunition. The Army leads the Pentagon's effort to account for its munitions, but the other services cannot share data directly with it. The result: Requests for ammunition to the Army must be typed into its system manually, wasting time and potentially inserting errors.

Other problems: The services' annual conference to swap ammunition loses track of surplus, erasing it from the books. That has led to an unknown amount of usable ammunition slated for destruction as obsolete or simply lost in storage. Despite being required to by law, the Army had not shared information about its missile stockpile until March when the GAO was completing its investigation.

The Pentagon, in a statement, acknowledged shortcomings in its accounting and vowed to make improvements.

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