Defense Waste: The Final Frontier | Citizens Against Government Waste

Defense Waste: The Final Frontier

The WasteWatcher

As the country careens toward the automatic year-end program cuts and expiration of tax breaks labeled “the fiscal cliff,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been on the offensive, releasing reports in consecutive months highlighting wasteful spending in government. The November WasteWatcher detailed Sen. Coburn’s Wastebook 2012, which targeted 100 projects costing taxpayers more than $18 billion.

On November 15, 2012 Sen. Coburn released Department of Everything, detailing non-defense spending inside the Pentagon. According to the report, the U.S. can reduce security spending by $67.9 billion over 10 years by eliminating the non-defense programs that have found their way into the budget for the Department of Defense (DOD).

This report is especially timely, given the automatic cuts to the DOD’s budget that will be enacted should Congress fail to act before the end of the year. Under the Budget Control Act’s sequestration process, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts will be divided equally between defense and various domestic spending programs on January 2, 2013. As Citizens Against Government Waste has previously detailed, defense hawks have been highly critical of sequestration, claiming that $600 billion in cuts to the DOD budget over ten years cannot be made without jeopardizing national security.

In Department of Everything, Sen. Coburn provides numerous examples of non-defense spending that could serve to get the ball moving toward needed cuts in defense spending. Furthermore, this spending could all be eliminated without jeopardizing the DOD’s mission of deterring war and protecting the security of the country. The report found $37 billion spent on overhead, support, and supply services, $15.2 billion in education spending, $9 billion on grocery stores and commissaries, $6 billion on non-military research and development, and $700 million on alternative energy.

Of course it wouldn’t be a report from Sen. Coburn without ridiculous examples of wasteful spending. Chief among them is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project called 100 Year Starship that spent approximately $100,000 for a strategy planning workshop in support of the program. The workshop included one session, entitled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” that entailed a panel debating the implications for Christian philosophy should life be found on other planets. The DOD has spent more than $1 million on the 100 Year Starship project thus far.

Sen. Coburn’s report also detailed a $1.5 million DOD program to develop beef jerky in the form of Fruit Roll-Ups, a DOD and Department of Agriculture co-produced reality cooking show called “Grill It Safe,” and DOD-run microbreweries.

These programs are the low-hanging fruit that could easily be eliminated prior to addressing the underperforming or duplicative acquisition programs that are also ripe for the picking. One such example is the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a program that has been plagued with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion and is 10 years behind schedule.  An additional $16.5 billion would be required to complete the design and development and procurement stages, and an internal U.S. Army memo asserted that the program “will not meet U.S. requirements or address the current and emerging threat without extensive and costly modifications.” 

On July 31, 2012, the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee included in its version of the FY 2013 DOD spending bill $380 million for MEADS.  This occurred after three-of-four relevant congressional committees zeroed out funding.  The September 2012 continuing resolution set to fund the federal government through March 27, 2013 included $190 million for MEADS.

Part of the difficulty in finding savings in the DOD budget is that the agency has not been audited in years.  Secretary Panetta acknowledged this in May 2012, saying the DOD “is the only major federal agency that cannot pass an audit today.”  The Pentagon will not be ready for an audit for another five years, according to Panetta.  In August 2012, Sens. Coburn and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced legislation that would force the DOD to undertake an audit.

It appears most defense hawks are mistaken; Sen. Coburn and others have found plenty of waste in the DOD. Slash-and-burn budget reductions are not ideal, and it has become clear that there are many programs that could be eliminated immediately without jeopardizing national security.

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