WASHINGTON — The Pentagon could save $68 billion over the next decade just by cutting programs with no direct relation to the nation's defense, Sen. Tom Coburn said Thursday.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, released a 73-page report called “Department of Everything” that cites numerous examples of nondefense research funded by the Pentagon. The report also criticizes spending on schools and commissaries and says the Defense Department has far too many generals and admirals.
At a news conference, Coburn said Republicans have had “a blind eye” in regard to military spending. The fiscal crisis, he said, requires that all spending must be considered for cuts. Pentagon spending could be slashed in nondefense areas and the savings used for weapons.
“I'm a budget hawk, but I'm also a military hawk,” Coburn said. “I want them to have the best equipment in the world.”
Two Oklahoma congressmen with influence over Pentagon spending and policy said Thursday that their respective committees would consider Coburn's recommendations.
The Defense Department — which received about $645 billion in the last fiscal year when war spending is included — has grown to the point that it doesn't even know where all of its money goes, Coburn said. The senator has been demanding for years that the Pentagon get its books in order so it can be audited.
His report questions an array of research projects — including a smartphone “app” that alerts people when to take a coffee break — and spending on such endeavors as a cooking show featuring two “grill sergeants.”
The department spends an average of $50,000 per student at the elementary and secondary schools on domestic bases, Coburn said Thursday. The report recommends that local public schools take over the military base schools with funding from the Defense Department. That is already the situation with two elementary schools at the Fort Sill Army post in Lawton.
The Pentagon “could pay public schools $14,000 per student and save billions of dollars,” Coburn said.
The report also suggests that the Pentagon get out of the grocery store business. Increasing a troop allowance by about $400 a year would compensate for the loss of subsidized groceries and still save the Pentagon about $9 billion over 10 years, the report states.
And it recommends converting some military positions to civilian positions and reducing the number of general officers.
Inhofe shows interest
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is expected to be the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee next year and have increased influence over military matters, said in a statement:
“I appreciate Senator Coburn's many reports that look across the entire government for ways we can reduce spending.
“His most recent report on defense spending has some interesting items in it. I hope that the Senate Armed Services Committee, with its jurisdiction over these areas, will look into some of these items.
“There are areas where the Pentagon can improve efficiencies and reform the acquisition process to save taxpayer dollars, and those areas should be a high priority for the committee next year. At the same time, we cannot eliminate our debt and deficit spending solely on the backs of our military members and their families.
“We have an all volunteer force, and our retention rate has been good. So, some of these items cannot be considered in isolation, because when you cut benefits, you are essentially cutting their pay.”
Cole praises report
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, who sits on the powerful House subcommittee that oversees military spending, said Coburn's report “couldn't come at a better time.”
Cole said, “Our military will undergo crippling funding cuts unless we prevent the sequester (automatic cuts to defense spending) from being implemented in January. This report demonstrates that real defense spending is not driving our debt. Instead of the sequester cuts that reduce our military personnel, benefits and defense capabilities, Congress should be focused on eliminating outrageous wasteful spending, as well as reforming our inefficient entitlement system.
“Service members and their families deserve better than the fiscal cliff, and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will certainly consider Sen. Coburn's findings.”