October 31, 2013



Kentucky's Rand Paul based an extraordinarily effective Cedar Rapids speech on its contents. His colleague in the Senate who compiles it annually served as a key source in a "60 Minutes" segment on outrageous fraud in government disability programs.

We are talking about U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn's "Wastebook 2012," the Oklahoma Republican's chronicling of federal frittering away of our tax dollars.

The book spares no sacred cows. Coburn even goes after projects in his own state, namely an airport with one landing a month and a $450,000 annual federal expenditure. (Paul elicited incredulous laughter with his Coburn-inspired takes on tax-supported robot squirrels and NASA-funded research on pizza preferences for astronauts on theoretical journeys to Mars.)

Coburn makes no special exception for the United States military.

In fact, the conservative legislator released a report - "The Department of Everything" - that suggests $68 billion in savings in military spending "without cutting any Army brigade combat teams, Navy combat ships, or Air Force fighter squadrons."

This is not Ralph Nader. This is not a collection of graying 60s activists in Madison or Boulder.

Coburn is all red state, no coloring outside the lines.

Which brings me to a recent jaw-dropping comment from Matt Whitaker, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa who is seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin.

At a Carroll event, Whitaker, an Ankeny Republican, said the military should be protected from scrutiny from the likes of, well, fellow Republicans like Coburn.

After warming the crowd up with a math lesson - "You know, a trillion is one million millions. It's a big number. It's hard to comprehend." - Whitaker made the following observation:

"I think the military does the best job of being effective and efficient with the resources we give them, but every other department in the federal government, there's waste, there's fraud, there's abuse."

So Whitaker believes there is no waste, fraud or abuse with defense spending?

The blind pedestalizing of the military is not patriotism. In fact, as Coburn, again no liberal, points out, Whitaker's positioning and rhetoric represent the exact opposite. Any waste in military spending consumes money that otherwise could be used to equip men in the field.

But Whitaker says there's the military, which he'd leave alone, and "every other department."

Has Whitaker seen Coburn's report?

Is he aware of the unending cascade of reports on military waste, from $45 sodas to, according to Coburn's research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funding a study last year examining how to make it easier to produce silk from wild (silkmoth) cocoons in Africa and South America.

There are even bigger-ticket questions about weapons systems and installations.

A GAO report frames the issue this way: "The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for more than half of the federal government's discretionary spending. Significant financial and related business management systems and control weaknesses have adversely affected DOD's ability to control costs; ensure basic accountability; anticipate future costs and claims on the budget; measure performance; maintain funds control; prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse."

In his obsequious reach for the American flag as a political bludgeon, his blind appeal to patriotism, Whitaker says much about what he doesn't know - even if viewed exclusively in the context of the GOP primary.

His own party (and its tea party influences) aren't hewing to the tired, hands-off line on all military spending.

Whitaker needs to update his worldview. This is not the 1980s. It is not Soviet to acknowledge waste, fraud and abuse in the American military.