The defense budget includes billions of dollars for programs and missions that are not security-related, are being performed by other agencies, and are simply unnecessary, according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). 

In a report (The Department of Everything) released last week, Coburn asserts $68 billion in cuts to the defense budget (over 10 years) can be made “without cutting any Army brigade combat teams, Navy combat ships, or Air Force fighter squadrons.” 

The 73-page report identifies five areas of defense spending that Coburn says “have very little to do with national security.”  Cuts can be made in these areas, according to Coburn, saving taxpayers money and reducing the deficit, without affecting U.S national security.

Coburn recommends $6 billion in cuts to non-military research and development (R&D) projects that are not related to defense or military medical needs.  Coburn charges that efforts to avoid duplication of R&D efforts among government agencies are ineffective at best.  He identifies 12 R&D projects that he says involve wasteful or unnecessary spending.  Defense medical research dollars are often used by Congress for “political pork” or duplicate other agencies’ efforts, he charges.

The report alleges $15 billion spent on education duplicate efforts by the Department of Education, local school districts, and Department of Veterans Affairs.  Coburn acknowledges the historical rationale for separate DoD schools, particularly overseas, but charges that the need “for a separate system of Pentagon-run schools here in the United States at four times the cost with no discernible difference in educational output no longer exists.”

The report charges “duplicative and unnecessary alternative energy research by the Department of Defense” costs $700 million.  DoD should reevaluate its energy research priorities, according to Coburn.  Coburn cites a GAO report in stating that many of DoD’s renewable energy projects are not effective or cost efficient.  He calls for an end to duplication of efforts by DoD and the Department of Energy.

Coburn is critical of the high budgetary costs of operating commissaries in the United States.  He recommends that DoD increasing servicemember pay and phasing out commissaries would save $9 billion.  Coburn argues that increased pay would be more effective than commissary benefits in improving recruiting and retention.

The report recommends changes to overhead, support, and supply services that could save $37 billion.  Coburn supports recommendations by the Defense Business Board (DBB) to convert some military positions (providing support services) to civilian positions.  He estimates that converting 25 percent of these positions could save billions of dollars.  He also calls for reducing the current number of general and flag officers (about 1,000 today) by 200.  This cut would also produce an additional reduction of 800 support staff, which he says would save almost $1 billion over 10 years.  Making Defense Agencies and field offices more effective could also save another $5 billion over 10 years, Coburn asserts.

Coburn has long been critical of wasteful government spending.  Prior to this report, he has issued Wastebook 2012, Wastebook 2011, and Wastebook 2010, in which he identifies what he calls “some of the most wasteful government spending.”