It wasn't on the scale of losing M-16 assault rifles or accidentally arming a B-52 bomber with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, but the news that Hill Air Force Base lost control of its mass-transit and van-pool system still is disturbing.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that an enterprising reporter for this newspaper had to invoke the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the audit that brought this problem to light. The audit was written last year, and the problems, according to the Air Force, have been corrected. But the public, whose tax money was at stake, had to wait a year and rely on the media to hear about it. To be truly accountable, the Air Force and all branches of the military should immediately make public any audit that doesn't compromise national security. That builds trust and confidence, even if the audit reveals disturbing problems.
In this case, the base turned its share of the mass-transit program over to the Utah Transit Authority to administer. Congress established a program to pay for transit ridership or van pools using a system of vouchers. But the audit last year found that 120 of those had been issued for people who didn't ride in the vans, or to contractors who weren't supposed to be eligible. It also found some riders were given two monthly vouchers because their names were listed twice, and that 104 were given vouchers even though they had retired, resigned or moved. These errors cost about $133,000 a month. They were compounded by people receiving both van-pool and transit vouchers even when not eligible and by spot checks showing vans were mostly empty, among other problems.
In the year since the audit was completed, Hill has removed oversight for the program from UTA and given it to a full-time base employee. Officials also have established better processes for keeping track of the benefit.
That's good news. Problems with the transit program don't measure up to some of the Air Force's more serious slips in recent months. They are, perhaps, symptomatic of a large organization that operates without the market pressures that apply to private businesses. Public transparency would only help that problem.