Reuters recently published part two of an investigative series on the high cost of the Pentagon’s bookkeeping. The series, by Reuters reporter Scot Paltrow, revealed that accounting issues at the Pentagon have led to widespread pay errors for America’s soldiers, a persistent inability to tally financial records and ledgers doctored with false entries.
Paltrow talks about how he reported the story:
Q. How did this story get started?
A. I was alerted to the topic some years ago by the then-head of the Government Accountability Office, when I interviewed him on another topic. Because of the staggering sums of money involved and the lack of accountability by the Defense Department, I was eager to follow up. When I joined Reuters Enterprise Desk, Mike Williams, the enterprise editor, was enthusiastic and urged me to pursue it. I think it’s fair to say that the topic turned out to merit the attention.
Q. What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?
A. Much of it involved identifying and tracking down individuals who had direct knowledge of what happened and how things worked – and who for various reasons would be able and willing to talk. This required finding recent retirees or those who had left the Defense Department for other jobs. We sent many detailed questions to spokespersons for the Pentagon and individual military services, and we were able to interview quite high-level officials in the Secretary of Defense’s office and the Army. Investigative reporting has a glamorous image, but the truth is that it largely involves tedious work. I lost count of how many public Government Accountability Office and Defense Department Inspector General’s reports I’ve read. I spent huge amounts of time simply trying to find phone numbers and e-mail addresses for individuals I needed to contact. I’ve been a journalist for quite a long time, and the internet of course has revolutionized everything, making reporting vastly easier. I well recall the pre-internet days when research required going to the public library and spending hours poring through microfilm and microfiche.
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