Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., is one of the lawmakers critical of the plan.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., is one of the lawmakers critical of the plan. Tom Williams / Pool via AP

Lawmakers Criticize Navy's Plan to Drastically Slash Civilian Jobs in Internal Audit Office

Agency itself says it "will not be able to accomplish its mission" if Navy moves forward with 70% reduction.

A group of lawmakers is voicing concerns over a plan by the Navy to slash more than 200 civilian jobs, saying it would significantly hamper an internal audit agency. 

The Navy has internally proposed cutting the Navy Audit Service’s workforce by 70% from 290 to just 85, which members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and leadership within the agency itself, said would have deleterious effects. Audit Service officials have said such an approach would prevent the service from accomplishing its mission to provide objective audits and investigations. While housed within the Navy, NAS operates independently. 

The reductions would not ultimately save the Defense Department money, Reps. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., Elaine Luria, D-Va., Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., and Scott Peters, D-Calif., said in a letter on Thursday to acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker, as NAS has successfully prevented billions of dollars in fraudulent spending or unnecessary procurements. The agency’s $45 million budget makes up just 0.0003% of the Navy’s total annual expenditures, the lawmakers noted. NAS’ equivalent office in the Army has 500 employees and the same office in the Air Force has more than 600.  

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The proposal was first put forward last year under the Trump administration, the lawmakers said, criticizing the Navy for failing to consult on its plans with Congress. They implored the Biden administration to reverse the decision, highlighting that the audit office itself has sounded the alarm over the plan.

With the reduced budget and resources, NAS “will not be able to accomplish its mission,” the agency wrote in its fiscal 2020 annual report. Debra Pettitt, the Navy's auditor general, said she has attempted to rebuild morale at the service but the proposal was a "crushing blow" that "reversed every stride we had made forward." In a letter last year to Navy leadership that was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, Pettitt said she was "deeply troubled" by the "draconian and misguided reduction." She said claims that accountants within the Navy could replace NAS "could not be further from the truth" as the service provided a separate function to ensure programs are managed effectively. She added that Defense’s inspector general had indicated to her that it would not be able to absorb NAS’ portfolio. 

"I cannot stress enough the sacrifice to the department's transparency and accountability that will be realized if the 70% cut to the Navy Audit Service is implemented," she said.

Lawmakers raised objections about the proposed cuts to the Navy earlier this year, but the Biden administration did not signal it was backing away from the decision and declined to provide documents to support it. 

Harker told lawmakers in March the Navy had concerns “about the size and cost of organizations that perform a variety of overlapping audits, inspections, and investigations,” including NAS, the Defense IG and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which NAS supports. 

President Biden is set to release his detailed fiscal 2022 budget request on Friday, which may indicate whether he intends to move forward with the cuts. In their Thursday letter, the lawmakers again requested documents supporting the reductions, including a cost-benefit analysis. They also asked what assistance the impacted civilian employees would receive, including whether they would be reassigned. 

The Navy did not respond to a request for comment.