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Coburn shows what $28 billion in government waste looks like

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 3:03 PM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, speaks during a news conference to release his annual report of what he calls
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, speaks during a news conference to release his annual report of what he calls "wasteful and low-priority" spending.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP Sen. Tom Coburn released his annual report on government waste
  • He highlighted 100 government programs and $28 billion worth of "questionable" spending
  • Coburn cites programs and other spending in many government agencies
  • Agencies in question consider the spending legitimate

Washington (CNN) -- Q. What does NASA's "Green Ninja," calm wives and military weapons in Afghanistan have in common?

A. They all made Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's annual book of government waste.

The Oklahoma Republican, a devout believer in small government, said the federal government wasted $28 billion in 2013 on "questionable and lower-priority" programs.

Coburn, who supports deep cuts to the federal budget, said government waste could still be found despite outrage over the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last year.

"While (President Barack Obama) and his Cabinet issued dire warnings about the cataclysmic impacts of sequestration, taxpayers were not alerted to all of the waste being spared from the budget axe," Coburn wrote in his report titled "Wastebook 2013."

Agencies that received the money don't consider it wasted, however.

The 177-page report that Coburn has been compiling for five years highlighted programs from the departments of Defense to Agriculture, from NASA to the National Institutes of Health.

"The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in

"Wastebook 2013" is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement," he said.

Coburn's examples of waste:

Weapons destruction -- $7 billion

Weapons destruction: Coburn said the Pentagon junking weapons and vehicles used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"The military has decided to simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home," Coburn said.

For instance, Coburn said "thousands" of heavily armored vehicles -- MRAPs --used to protect troops from roadside bombs "will simply be shredded."

Budget compromise clears Senate procedural hurdle

Military response: The military defended the decision, saying it will keep about 11,000 but that a large number of them are no longer necessary with new military priorities. The remaining vehicles will be offered to law enforcement and other agencies.

The cost is too great to ship the rest back and refurbish them to sit unused -- about $400,000 per vehicle, the Pentagon said.

Fort Hood shooter paycheck -- $52,952

Coburn said Maj. Nadal Hasan, convicted of killing 13 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood Army base in Texas in 2009 collected more than $278,000 in military benefits since the massacre.

A military jury rendered a guilty verdict last summer, but he continued to be compensated until then.

Army's response: The Army defended the payments, noting that they stopped once Hasan was convicted per military law.

"He is innocent until proven guilty," Army spokesman Troy Rolan, said. "It's the same concept it is in the military as it is for civilians."

Study: Wives should calm down -- $325,525

Coburn points to a National Institutes of Health study that cost more than $300,000 to find that the "happiest" marriages "were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly" during conflict, the researcher in the report found.

"Men who want a happy marriage are probably wise to avoid telling their wives the government's advice to resolving marital conflicts is for her to calm down," Coburn's report said.

NIH's defense: "Understanding how couples maintain emotional satisfaction, especially in the face of everyday conflicts and challenges, can shed light on the qualities that define successful social relationships and point to interventions to support marital health in the long term."

The study did in fact find that "women's ability to manage emotional conflict may be an important signal to both partners of the health of a marriage."

The NIH said the research grant was part of a multifaceted study by the National Institute on Aging that looked at "emotional function in aging."

Budget deal: Who wins, who loses?

NASA's little green man -- $390,000

Coburn knocks NASA on two fronts: for its "Green Ninja" character to teach children about global warming and for scaling back its manned space flight program.

NASA "seems to have shifted its focus from making contact with little green men to teaching children about fictional green ninjas," Coburn wrote.

He said the Green Ninja is supposed to be the equivalent of "Smokey the Bear" and is a multimedia tool for teachers to educate children about global warming.

"While this project may be fun and even educational, NASA would have a much bigger impact inspiring young people to seek out careers in science and technology by focusing its resources on its primary missions," Coburn wrote.

NASA's response: The agency has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Here's Coburn's full list of government waste

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