Defense Budget:

Improved Reviews Needed to Ensure Better Management of Obligated Funds

GAO-03-275: Published: Jan 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2003.

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As of September 30, 2001, the Navy's operating appropriations had $2.1 billion in unliquidated--or unpaid--funds that were obligated during fiscal years 1997-99. Unliquidated obligations that are no longer needed to pay for goods and services tie up funds that could be used for other permissible purposes. In addition, inaccurate obligation data result in misstatement of budgetary information. Because of the large dollar value, we examined the Navy's management of unliquidated obligations. Specifically, we reviewed a statistically representative sample of the Navy's $1.4 billion in unliquidated operating obligations valued at $50,000 or more for fiscal years 1997-99 to determine whether these obligations were (1) properly accounted for and (2) reviewed in accordance with DOD regulations.

We estimated that $929 million of the $1.4 billion in unliquidated operating obligations valued at $50,000 or more for fiscal years 1997-99 was not properly accounted for (see table). Specifically, the Navy failed to deobligate $452 million of unliquidated operating obligations that was no longer needed and potentially available for other permissible purposes, such as contract modifications. In addition, $147 million of unliquidated operating obligations was inaccurately recorded because of problem disbursements--payments not properly matched to the correct obligation. A further $330 million was inaccurately recorded due to unresolved errors, such as bills that were not processed properly. The remaining $489 million in unliquidated operating obligations was properly accounted for and still needed for the original purpose. An estimated two-thirds of the unliquidated operating obligations over $50,000 were not properly accounted for as a result of the Navy's failure to review such obligations three times each year as required by DOD regulations. In addition, the Navy did not fully adhere to the regulation that unliquidated operating obligations of any value be reviewed at least once each year. Consequently, the Navy did not know how much money was tied up in unliquidated operating obligations that could potentially be used for other appropriate needs, and its budgetary reports to Congress and financial statements were inaccurate. Navy fund managers chose to selectively review their operating obligations, citing obstacles such as difficulties in obtaining accurate payment and billing data and the extensive length of time needed to review large numbers of obligations. Further, the Navy did not apply existing internal control activities to ensure that fund managers performed obligation reviews in accordance with DOD regulations, nor did it hold fund managers accountable for the accuracy and completeness of the reviews.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Navy has implemented improvements to its unliquidated operating obligation review procedures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of Navy to adhere to DOD unliquidated operating obligation review regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Navy has implemented improvements to its unliquidated operating obligation review procedures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of Navy to better apply existing internal control activities to ensure adherence to these regulations, and to hold fund managers accountable for the accuracy and completeness of their reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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