Watchdog: Coburn report IDs $68 billion in DOD spending cuts

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News,Watchdog,Mark Flatten

Billions for beef jerky. Not one penny from defense.

It's not quite that bad. But the Pentagon is squandering billions of dollars annually on everything from its own brand of beef jerky and microbreweries to religious debates involving mythical Klingons from the TV show "Star Trek," according to a scathing report on military spending issued today by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

"Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security."
-- Sen. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla.

Coburn, a pointed critic of government waste, said eliminating Department of Defense spending that has nothing to do with defending the nation could save taxpayers $67.9 billion over the next 10 years.

His new report - titled "Department of Everything" - comes as President Obama and congressional leaders are beginning negotiations on tax and spending plans to start chipping away at the nation's trillion-dollar deficits before automatic reductions and tax hikes take effect at the end of the year. (See the complete report in the embedded viewer below this story.)

"Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security," said Coburn, who breaks from fellow Republicans who would spare the Pentagon from any budget trimming.

"No part of the budget can be taken off the table," Coburn said.

Besides reducing the deficit by getting rid of unnecessary spending, reforms recommended by Coburn would redirect tax dollars to core functions like fighting the enemy with better airplanes, newer rifles and upgraded ships and submarines, he said.

For instance, last year the Pentagon spent about $1.2 billion to operate on-base grocery stores and $700 million to buy rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns and shotguns combined, according to the report.

The biggest chunk of the savings, about $37 billion, could be achieved by reclassifying about a fourth of the jobs currently done by military personnel to less costly civilian positions, the report said.

Truck drivers, supply clerks and communications specialists in friendly countries far away from war zones are performing a civilian function and do not need to be uniformed troops, he said.

The Pentagon is the largest employer in the nation, with about 1.4 million active-duty personnel. About 340,000 of them perform commercial-type functions suitable for civilian staffing, according to the report.

About $6 billion could be saved by eliminating medical research done by the Pentagon that has nothing to do with military service. Congressional mandates to appease special interests have directed billions in funding to the military for research into such things as breast and prostate cancer.

Research into those cancers and other maladies is already being done by a variety of federal agencies, primarily the National Institutes of Health. The military medical research program cost taxpayers $1.2 billion last fiscal year.

Another $15 billion could be saved by phasing out on-base schools run by the military and other education programs that duplicate services already provided by other federal, state or local agencies.

A DOD-run school at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., for example, is less than a mile away from a public elementary school funded by the state. The on-base school has 90 students - five in its fifth grade and three in the seventh grade.

Other reforms put forth by Coburn include:

• More than $1.5 million spent from Pentagon weapons procurement funds to pay for development of develop a new type of beef jerky that can be produced in rolls rather than chunks or sticks.

• Microbreweries and U.S. based liquor stores run by the Pentagon. The report does not provide a cost.

• $100,000 spent for a seminar that included a workshop titled "Did Jesus Die for Klingons Too?" The session dealt with the theological conflict to Christianity if intelligent life is found on other planets.

In response to the Coburn report, Pentagon officials only issued a statement saying they have "redoubled our efforts to make better use of the taxpayers' dollars."

Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog special reporting team and can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Read the complete report by Sen. Tom Coburn

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