Sen. Coburn: Cuts Possible Because Pentagon Has Become ‘Department of Everything’

Sen. Tom Coburn calls the Defense Department the "Department of Everything" in a new report that carries that name. The detailed study says the Pentagon could stop doing a list of non-defense functions and roll nearly $70 billion in savings into things actually used to defend the United States.

One member of Congress is raising eyebrows with a new — and detailed — report that, he says, shows a significant chunk of yearly Pentagon spending does not go toward things to actually defend the United States of America.

We know what you’re likely thinking: Another liberal dove bashing the Pentagon. Nope. The report comes from Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

The report states the Pentagon could save nearly $70 billion over a decade by ceasing to do things like putting out itw own beef jerky line and running, wait for it, microbreweries. And the report, titled “Department of Everything,” contains plenty more juicy, and somewhat troubling, nuggets like those.

“I prepared this report because the American people expect the Pentagon’s $600 billion annual budget to go toward our nation’s defense,” Coburn said in a statement accompanying the report. “That isn’t happening. Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security, or are already being performed by other government agencies.

Coburn and his staff found that each year the Defense Department spends $9 billion to run its own grocery stores, $15.2 billion to operate its own schools, and its overhead expenses surpass Israel’s entire gross domestic product.

“Spending more on grocery stores than guns doesn’t make any sense,” Coburn said. “And using defense dollars to run microbreweries, study Twitter slang, create beef jerky, or examine Star Trek does nothing to defend our nation.”

Coburn also questions why the Pentagon Channel, the military’s very own taxpayer-funded cable television network, needs to produce its own cooking show, called “Grill Sergeants.” That kind of show isn’t cheap.

Don’t be too quick to discount Coburn’s work as him turning toward dovish Capitol Hill liberals.

Oh, no. Coburn has a crazy (sarcasm alert) idea: Stop doing all the non-defense things he identifies and roll those dollars into, wait for it, things like weapons.

“The $67.9 billion in savings in the ‘Department of Everything’ report could pay for a third of the cost of the planned fleet of new strategic bombers for the Air Force,” Coburn states. “It could, likewise, pay a third of the cost of the fleet of Ohio-class replacement nuclear submarines for the Navy. For the Army, $16 billion over ten years — about 25 percent of the savings in the report — could mean robust funding for modernization or purchase of new rifles and light machine guns for every soldier.”

As lawmakers and the Obama administration begin looking for ways to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, they’re going to look for places to slash federal spending. Perhaps Coburn has given them a few ideas about how to slash the Pentagon’s bloated non-combat tail while also sharpening its combat teeth.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett