What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department.
Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.
What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.
(Graphics are all public domain US government images and logos)
(Also, now seems like as good a time as any to reminder readers that this blog is a personal project not affiliated with my employer, and that I’m trying very hard not to include my own personal judgments about what is and is not a good thing to spend money on—I’m just providing context here).