The comptroller’s job is to ensure that the money is available to run the Pentagon. But Zakheim details the many restrictions that the Department of Defense faced as it tried to spend the money that Congress authorized and appropriated in the wake of 9/11. The fact is that DoD’s annual appropriation is for the normal operation of the department; supplemental appropriations are necessary to finance wars. Congress places restrictions on how supplemental funds may be spent, which limits the discretion of the department in “reprogramming” appropriated money. This makes sense most of the time, but under the circumstances that DoD faced in the aftermath of 9/11 and the lead-up to the U.S. counteroffensive in Afghanistan, these restrictions created real problems.
As DoD comptroller, Zakheim also faced problems within the executive branch itself, most notably the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which insisted on inserting itself into the detailed process of authorizing the distribution of congressionally appropriated funds to the military services. It did not help that he had a contentious relationship with the deputy director of OMB, Robin Cleveland, who was able to make end runs around Zakheim to reach Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense. Despite the fact that both Zakheim and Wolfowitz were Vulcans, they often disagreed on policy issues.