A $600 billion a year bureaucracy such as the Pentagon is bound to be infected by profiteers with no regard for patriotism or basic honesty. Regular reports of investigations involving defense contract fraud make that clear.
It is nothing new. George Washington worried about whether the Continental Congress was getting its money's worth in spending on the Revolutionary War. The term "shoddy" reportedly originated in the Civil War, as a description for army uniforms that disintegrated in the rain.
But the stakes are much higher now. Individual instances of fraud can net the perpetrators tens of millions of dollars - perhaps more. Sometimes, in addition to ripping off taxpayers, unscrupulous defense contractors place our men and women in uniform at risk.
There are just two lines of defense against defense spending fraud: whistle-blowers who go to the press or Congress, and government auditors.
Earlier this year, Pentagon Inspector General Claude Kicklighter reported to Congress that he does not have enough auditors to keep up with defense spending. As a result, the Pentagon is "increasingly more vulnerable to the fraud, waste and abuse that undermines the department's mission," he wrote.
Auditors are not a particularly glamorous part of our defense establishment. Yet they may be as important as several tank divisions. Congress should ensure that Kicklighter's department has enough personnel to guard against fraud and waste.