Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, a noted deficit hawk, gave Fortune magazine writer, Nin-Hai Tseng, an interview this week where he laid out some of the realities of the state of the state in Washington, D.C. Senator Coburn is often regarded as an eccentric, wild card—modern Washington parlance for a straight shooter who does not kowtow to lobbyists. The conservative Coburn has no patience for inefficiency in government, even in arenas traditionally sacrosanct to Republicans.
When asked about the Defense Department Coburn said, “I think there is at least $50 billion of waste in the US Department of Defense. But we don’t really know because nothing in the Defense Department can be measured because they don’t have audited financial statements. They’re not even sure what they’re buying and they’re not even sure if they’ve paid for it. One of the things I’ve been working on for the last two years is to put financial controls in the Defense Department. They’re highly effective at what they do but they’re highly inefficient. There’s a lot of money in that $600 billion budget that we could save just through good management practices.”
The Senator also laid it on the line about the precarious state of America’s finances, “I’ve studied a lot of international finance in the last year and a half and I’ve read the works of every major economist around the world and I’ve talked to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and I’ve talked to U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. We’re in deep weeds right now. If something collapses in the Middle East, and interest rates go up, we have the potential to go on a downward spiral that we cannot get out of. We’re going to become Japan, too.”