A group of U.S. House members are again asking acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker for more information on the department’s plans to cut funding and staff for the Naval Audit Service.
News of the proposed cuts was first reported by Navy Times earlier this year, after several auditors expressed concern about plans to cut the internal oversight office by as much as 70 percent in the coming years while shrinking its team from roughly 290 people to 85.
Auditors fear the ramifications of the Navy cutting its internal watchdog as the department aims to grow the fleet and spend billions in the process.
Harker has argued that cuts to the audit service’s $45 million annual budget can go toward shipbuilding and that the enterprise has enough oversight entities whose duties overlap.
But a letter sent by four House Democrats to Harker Thursday chides the acting SECNAV for pursuing such cuts without consulting Congress “while simultaneously directing (the Naval Audit Service) to discontinue its audit and oversight work.”
“It is not evident to us that the cost savings created by your proposed cuts to NAS would outweigh the long-term benefits of the organization’s critical oversight work,” states the letter, which comes a day before the Pentagon is expected to release the Fiscal Year fiscal 2022 budget.
The letter, signed by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s National Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., California Democrats Sara Jacobs and Scott Peters, as well as Virginia Congresswoman and retired Navy officer Elaine Luria, alleges that the Navy is already moving forward with slashing the audit service.
“You have reportedly ordered (the Naval Audit Service) to reduce its staff by more than half by October and informed the Auditor General to ‘not begin any new audits this year,’” the letter to Harker states.
Luria has sought more information from Harker on the proposed audit service cuts since February but has not received all the information requested, according to this week’s letter.
Harker’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but he has in recent months defended the cuts.
In a letter to Luria in March, Harker wrote that the Navy was “concerned” about “the size and cost” of oversight offices such as the audit service, offices of inspectors general and other oversight entities, and the overlap of their mandates.
As a result, the Navy plans to “reshape” the audit service and disperse its employees to jobs elsewhere in the Department of the Navy, Harker wrote.
At the same time, Harker said the audit service “remains a critical oversight activity of the Department,” and that the service “will perform targeted audits of interest for the Secretary of the Navy, focusing on areas of largest impact to the DON mission that, consequently, provide the largest returns on investment.”
But Thursday’s letter pushes back on Harker’s contention that the Navy doesn’t need more oversight, contending that “the Navy’s checkered record in developing and acquiring new vessels exemplifies why more oversight is necessary, not less.”
The Navy’s pricey shipbuilding fiascos of recent years, including the littoral combat ship, the Zumwalt class destroyers and the carrier Gerald R. Ford, have led lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to express skepticism about the service’s ability to handle such programs going forward.
The letter also notes that the Navy has more outstanding recommendations open from the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office than the other services.
“To date, the Navy has not provided sufficient justification for its proposed cuts to NAS,” Thursday’s letter states.
While Harker has billed the audit service cuts as a way to free up money for shipbuilding, the lawmakers point out that the audit service’s yearly budget of $45 million is “less than 0.0003% of the Navy’s overall $207.1 billion budget request” for Fiscal 2021, “making it unlikely that cuts to NAS would result in significant cost savings for the Department given the dividends the Navy receives as a direct result of NAS audits, evaluations and reviews.”
The letter asks Harker to send over any records regarding how the Navy came to the decision to cut the audit service, any assessments of the cuts and any assessments of the financial costs or benefits to such reductions by June 17.
“These proposed cuts to NAS would also come at a time when the Navy would greatly benefit from the robust oversight and audit services provided by NAS,” the letter states.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.