Senator Suggests Cuts to Avoid Pentagon Furloughs

Sue Ogrocki/AP file photo

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., called for the Pentagon to eliminate “unnecessary” jobs and programs in an effort to avoid furloughing “essential personnel,” should sequestration take effect March 1.

The ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee pointed to eight Defense employees who serve on the Board of Geographic Names -- responsible for naming topographic features across the county -- and a 46-minute cooking program the Pentagon produced with the Agriculture Department as areas that should be cut.

“Before any of these more drastic actions are taken, there are a number of ways the Pentagon could achieve savings that don’t harm our national security readiness or our troops or DoD personnel from performing vital military functions,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Coburn made his suggestions as part of an ongoing campaign to seek alternative cuts in place of forced, unpaid vacation for civilian Defense employees. The lawmaker previously recommended issuing a federal hiring freeze and cancelling a multi-agency, 100-city tour to promote grants to reach post-sequestration budget levels. 

The job and program cuts build on a report Coburn issued in November titled “Department of Everything: Department of Defense Spending That Has Little to Do With National Security,” which identified almost $68 billion in possible savings over ten years.  Additionally in his letter, Coburn suggested saving $1 million by scrapping research on how to send a vessel to another solar system.

“We can no longer afford such out-of-this-world spending if we hope to ensure our national security needs,” Coburn wrote.

Coburn’s $68 billion in savings falls well short of the roughly $600 billion the Pentagon would have to slash over ten years, should sequestration go into effect. Sequestration would require Defense to cut $42.7 billion in the remainder of fiscal 2013.

“Civilian furloughs are necessary” to meet that target by September -- the end of the fiscal year -- Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Government Executive. “I don’t believe any of [Coburn’s] ideas can be implemented immediately. This is not something we want to do; this is something Congress forced on us.” 

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