Center for Strategic Communication

By Sean Boers and Aaron Hesse

The Pentagon budget has exploded over the past decade, from $290 billion in 2001 to $526 billion last year. But does all that spending make us safer?

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) took a look at the Pentagon budget and found that billions of dollars are going toward programs that have little to do with U.S. national security. The Department of Defense has taken on so many nondefense functions that it has become “The Department of Everything,” Sen. Coburn says in a new report outlining $67.9 billion in savings from eliminating unnecessary programs.

An artist’s illustration of the new San Diego commissary’s interior. Source:

Sen. Coburn’s report highlights five areas for budget savings:

Non-Military Research and Development

Eliminating duplicative R&D programs and unnecessary research areas in the military services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency could save $6 billion.


The Pentagon currently operates 64 schools for service members’ children – not internationally, but here in the U.S. Closing the schools, which charge $50,000 per student and provide “no discernible difference in educational output” could save $15.2 billion.


The Pentagon spends approximately $15 billion per year on energy, including $700 million in redundancy with other government agencies like the Department of Energy.

Grocery Stores

The Pentagon spent $1.2 billion in 2012 operating on-base stores and commissaries, an extraordinary amount compared to the $700 million spent on small arms for the infantry.  The savings from closing the domestic stores could cover an across the board pay increase for military personnel and still save $9 billion.

Overhead, Support, and Supply

“If DOD Overhead’ was a separate country,” the Coburn report notes, “it would rank 49th in gross domestic product when matched up against every other nation in the world.” Trimming the Pentagon’s overhead costs could save $37 billion.

While we don’t agree with all the issues Sen. Coburn has highlighted, we do believe the there needs to be a reexamination of the strategic aims, policies, and programs of the Department of Defense.  Adjusting our national security strategy to fit with 21st Century needs means eliminating unnecessary programs and investing instead in effective military capabilities.

This strategic reassessment should include our outdated nuclear posture. With thousands of nuclear weapons and hundreds of delivery systems, our nuclear strategy is still stuck in the Cold War.

As Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson (ret.), former deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, recently wrote,these [nuclear] weapon systems are of limited practical use and pose tremendous costs that we can ill afford….Times have moved on, and so should we. The U.S. can still maintain a strong, effective nuclear deterrent with a dramatic reduction in deployed and non-deployed weapons.

Sen. Coburn highlighted this issue last year in his comprehensive deficit reduction plan, which included $79 billion in savings by cutting Cold War capabilities from the nuclear arsenal. The resulting nuclear force would be far more effective against today’s security threats.

Members of Congress looking for ways to solve the fiscal crisis would do well to follow Sen. Coburn’s example in identifying smart budget cuts.

Expensive, unnecessary programs divert resources from more important defense priorities, putting U.S. security at risk. Eliminating these programs will strengthen our national defense strategy.

As Sen. Coburn says, “We must eliminate waste and duplication to refocus the Pentagon to its true mission: fighting and winning the nation’s wars.”