We love to remind people that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is the world’s largest bureaucracy, employing more than the world’s largest corporation and centered around the world’s largest office building—the Pentagon. Today Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a new report titled “The Department of Everything” that addresses the question of what the world’s largest bureaucracy does. The answer: A whole lot of stuff that has little if anything to do with national security.
The report found nearly $70 billion worth of DOD programs either not essential to national security or performed somewhere else in the federal government. The programs are divided into five missions: research and development, education, alternative energy, grocery stores and support/supply services. Examples range from math programs that duplicate Department of Education and local school district efforts to research programs on roll-up beef jerky.
There’s a larger point here. Any budget watcher knows the defense budget has more than doubled since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Aside from the rampant waste, fraud and abuse documented by TCS and many others, a result of this spending explosion was the migration of functions from other parts of government into DOD. Turns out that bureaucracy, like bank robbers, tends to go where the money is. At the policy level, this “mission creep” means important functions such as diplomacy and foreign aid are increasingly being carried out by the military. This can be dangerous for our democracy as well as our economy. So we have many reasons to keep the “department of everything” from growing.