Defense & National Security

Coburn wages war on the zombie apocalypse

Coburn wages war on the zombie apocalypse

An armored vehicle for a sleepy New Hampshire town, a $24,000 “latrine on wheels,” and a counter-terrorism drill featuring a simulated zombie apocalypse are just a few of the Homeland Security pork projects in the crosshairs of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) with the release of a new report.

Coburn, a noted budget hawk who invites visitors to his official website to submit tips about government waste, took on the Pentagon last month with a 73-page study rooting out jerky research and storytelling summits as examples of fat to be trimmed from the Defense Department.

In a 55-page study released this week, Coburn takes the Department of Homeland Security to task for wasteful spending and pork projects in its Urban Area Security Initiative, a grant program that has received over $7 billion in federal dollars since 2003–nearly $1.8 billion in 2010 alone.

In an introductory letter, Coburn says his newest report was the product of a year’s worth of research into the workings of UASI. While he emphasizes that he believes the program plays a worthy and necessary role in domestic security, he expresses dismay at the level of nonessential spending it has taken on.

“If in the days after 9/11 lawmakers were able to cast their gaze forward ten years, I imagine they would be surprised to see how a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at protecting our largest cities has transformed into another parochial grant program,” Coburn writes.

Some of the UASI spending described in the report seems potentially reasonable: a $98,000 robot purchased in Columbus, Ohio for underwater rescues, and even the zombie apocalypse drill, which was justified by its planners as a test of real-world skills with a creative twist.

Other items, such as a purchase of 13 sno-cone machines with grant money in Michigan and that armored vehicle for a police force of 40 in Keene, N.H., are patently absurd.

The report concludes by recommending that the Department of Homeland Security develop a better system to determine what it needs to be able to do and how best to accomplish its goals efficiently and effectively.

“Failure by Congress to demand answers to these questions will continue to place billions of dollars in taxpayer money at risk and will perpetuate the structural deficiencies our review of this program has identified,” the study concludes.
Coburn’s office did not immediately return emails about how the study might be followed up with policy.

The November study on the Pentagon, however, might be ripe for rediscovery. That report found over $6.7 billion in “non-defense” spending waste to be eliminated and received a spectrum of media coverage, but has not seemed to produce any policy proposals from Congress. Likewise, a bill authored by Coburn that would audit Pentagon spending received a lukewarm reception after it was introduced in August.

But consensus is building that it may be time to trim the Defense Department, though not with the wholesale slashing prescribed under sequestration.

Earlier this week, Tasc, Inc. CEO David Langstaff broke with tradition among defense contracting industry leaders and suggested a responsible debt solution would likely include cutbacks to the DoD.

“The responsible action for all of us – in industry and in government – is to face the need for reductions, and to get on with it in a manner that protects national security,” he said during a Monday newsmaker event at the National Press Club. “…And yes, spending cuts will more than likely include defense spending cuts.”

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