WASHINGTON - Defense spending could be slashed by $68 billion over 10 years if the military stopped spending millions on running grocery stores, operating its own schools and even developing a roll-up version of beef jerky, insists one of the Senate's leading fiscal conservatives. In a new report, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn dubs the Pentagon the "Department of Everything."
Coburn details how the Pentagon could save money - vital in a time of rampant federal deficits - if it eliminated duplicative and excessive programs that have nothing to do with the nation's security. By turns sober and cheeky, the report points out that the Pentagon has spent more than $1 million on the 100-year Starship Project, including $100,000 for a workshop sure to attract Trekkies. One of the discussions was titled "Did Jesus Die for Klingons Too?"
"Our nation's $16 trillion debt is the new red menace, posing perhaps a greater threat to our nation than any military adversary," the report says in chilling Cold War terms.
The report from the Oklahoma lawmaker comes as President Barack Obama and Congress are trying to figure out a way to make deep cuts in the deficit. A Republican pushing for significant reductions in Pentagon spending is certain to draw attention in the coming weeks as Congress' defense hawks try to spare the military from anything more than the nearly $500 billion, 10-year cut in projected spending that lawmakers backed last year.
Coburn identified five areas that he said had nothing to do with national security yet represent a significant chunk of the annual $600 billion-plus Pentagon budget:
-Nonmilitary research, $6 billion.
-Education, $10.7 billion.
-Tuition assistance, $4.5 billion.
-Pentagon-run grocery stores, $9 billion.
-More than 300,000 military members performing civilian jobs and numerous general officers, $37 billion.
Coburn also said the Pentagon spent $700 million on alternative energy research that was duplicative or unnecessary.
Citing defense budget requests, previously published material and correspondence with the department, the report said the Foreign Comparative Testing program, dedicated to improving warfighter capability, has spent more than $1.5 million to develop a beef jerky in roll-up form.
"Beef jerky so good it will shock and awe your taste buds," the report said. "That is the goal of an ongoing Pentagon project, which is attempting to develop its own brand of jerky treats that are the bomb! Only, the money is coming from a program specially created to equip soldiers with the weapons they need."
One of the costliest programs for the Pentagon is education. The department operates 64 elementary and secondary schools on 16 military facilities in the United States, teaching 19,000 students. The cost is more than $50,000 per student, far above the national average of about $11,000 per student. The schools have 2,000 teachers and staff.
Initially, the schools were justified because the military after World War II was integrated while some of the local schools were not, the report said. The schools are located in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina.
At the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., the Pentagon operates an elementary and junior high school with just 90 students even though the Potomac Elementary School is less than a mile away. And recently, Congress approved a $1.48 million request to upgrade a new kitchen and computer room for Dahlgren.
The report argued that the money could be spent instead on lightweight machine guns for warfighters in Afghanistan.