Coburn criticizes DOD as 'Department of Everything'

Department of Everything report cover

The cover of Sen. Tom Coburn's report illustrates his argument that DOD is spending funds on projects that have no connection to its mission.

Last year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research funded a study by Carnegie Mellon University to discover that language used by people on Twitter can show where they are from, revealed by regionalisms such as “y’all” and “yinz.”

Is that a good use of Defense Department funds? Not according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

“While this may be interesting to linguists or even potentially federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI, it is difficult to see how spending limited resources to study the use of the slang and dialect by Twitter users in the United States advances the mission of either the Air Force or the Navy,” Coburn concluded in a new report called “The Department of Everything.”

Department of Everything

Read Sen. Tom Coburn's report here.

Watch Coburn's press conference here.

The senator’s report delves into what he calls “a lot of the stupid things that are happening.” In addition to the Twitter study, Coburn’s list includes DOD’s building of an app to warn iPhone users when their caffeine level is low.

The department, however, isn’t taking Coburn’s criticism lightly, defending the expenditures. For example, Air Force officials told Coburn that they awarded the grant to Carnegie Mellon to assess computational networks. Analyzing tweets wasn’t part of the statement of work, and the Air Force wasn’t aware of the results the university reported in its press release, they said.

Coburn proposes $6 billion in non-military research and development that would not take away from the combat personnel or their ability to perform on or off the battlefield. Overall, the report calls for $67.9 billion in cuts from research and various other programs, such as Pentagon-branded beef jerky and Pentagon-run microbreweries.

The report pinpoints areas where the Defense Department is spending billions of dollars that have nothing to do with the nation’s defense, the senator said during a press conference Nov. 15. He said Congress could transfer some of the programs, such as breast-cancer research, to other departments and consolidate the programs to save money. Or, he said Congress could cut the funding for some programs and do no harm to the department’s mission.

A DOD spokeswoman said the department has taken strides to spend its money wisely.

“The DOD budget is aligned to strategic priorities we have identified to keep America safe and maintain the strongest military in the world,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, defense press officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. “Over the past several years we have redoubled our efforts to make better use of the taxpayer’s defense dollar and meet our fiscal responsibilities.”

Coburn placed blame for the spending growth squarely on Congress’ shoulders.

The defense budget continues to increase because Congress has failed to do its oversight job, he said. Moreover, lawmakers are failing to carry out their responsibilities in much of the legislation they pass. Coburn said they give “way too much authority and judgment to the bureaucracies. And the reason we do that is because we don’t know what we’re talking about so we have to.”

In today’s budget climate, federal officials need to examine each corner of government spending, including the studies on Twitter, the senator said. He plans to offer “a ton of amendments” to the Senate’s fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254), which could come up for consideration in the coming days. However, Coburn was skeptical about whether or not Senate leaders would consider the amendments.

“That’s the dysfunction of Washington,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments


Yes, keep the microbreweries open... I'm with Beltway Bill on this one!

Sat, Nov 17, 2012

These (probably frivolous) R&D projects are a drop in the bucket. Get rid of the DUPLICATION in Dod, between the services, and especially between DoD and the 'real' federal government, and you could save tens of billions. Almost every civilian-side support agency or unit has a mirror-image DoD twin. GPO/Defense Printing, GSA Advantage/DoD Emall, GSA PBS and the various installation management commands in each service, there are dozens out there. Unless there is an overriding functional need for a seperate military unit to do the function, most could be common-serviced. This is back-office support stuff, not rocket science.

Fri, Nov 16, 2012

Absolutely agree with the commenter who wrote "How about Congress stopping hiding all sorts of their own domestic projects within the Defense budget?" Tens of Billions are spent/wasted on non-Defense projects and pork barrel items, due to Congress assigning them to DoD. See article by Citizens Against Government Waste, and its llink to Sen. Coburn's report: Not every expenditure is wasteful, e.g., DoD schools and commissaries (grocery stores). Especially in remote and overseas areas, these provide military personnel easy access to everyday necessities/services. The commissaries operate mostly at break-even cost, and are usually less expensive than civilian off-base stores.

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 Beltway Bill

Seems to me our dear Senator has an agenda in search of a problem (something to blame). R&D is critical for staying ahead of the curve. Fundemental to R&D is trying new things, failure, and 20/20-hindsight-waste -- if everyone knew the best solution up front we'd all be Apple, Google, and Einstein. If anything, military R&D is underfunded & behind. How how far ahead wrt novel technology (not just mass) are we from our threats? A few years in some things, maybe a few weeks in others, and behind in many. What's news here is the Senator had to dig so much to find these two little things.

Fri, Nov 16, 2012

All government programs are SUPPOSED to be connected, in writting, to the mission of the organization. How did anyone pass on these programs if the proper documentation was done?

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