Sequestration could be Pentagon pork killer

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

(CBS News) Sequestration is on the horizon. Come January, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts will be applied to federal programs because Congress has been unable to agree on targeted spending reductions.

Unless there's a last minute deal, half the cuts will come from domestic spending, the other half from military. But at least some in Congress are saying that slashing the Pentagon budget doesn't have to hurt national security.

You might be surprised that as part of the Defense Department's mission to protect Americans, your tax dollars funded a workshop about aliens from "Star Trek" entitled: Did Jesus Die for Klingons, Too? It's just one questionable projects under the microscope of fiscal conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who's taking his red pen to cuts that he sees as no-brainers.

"We can have just as many fighter planes as we need, just as many ships as we need, the nuclear arsenal we need, just as many troops as we need, if we take the waste, duplication and ridiculous out of the Pentagon," said Coburn, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee.

Coburn says the Pentagon funds microbreweries and on-base liquor stores in the U.S. One in Detroit, for example, advertises wine tastings and alcohol for parties. The Defense Department also pays to remove skunks from base golf courses.

The Pentagon told CBS News some expenses that sound silly are supporting "small towns that provide vital services and quality of life programs" to the all-volunteer force. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agrees -- the budget can be slashed without sacrificing national security.

Panetta said, "There is a strategic and fiscal imperative that is driving the department to a smaller, and leaner, and more agile force. That's a reality."

Those eyeing cuts may also be taking a look at research and development. The Defense Department spends more on R&D than every other federal agency combined: $73 billion this year alone. And not all of it is directly related to national security.

Military money helped develop an iPhone app to help people manage their caffeine intake. "Now tell me why that's important in the defense of our country?" Coburn asked.

Pentagon dollars also funded studies that concluded:

- Men are perceived as more muscular if they're holding a gun, instead of tools.

- New Yorkers and Californians use different regional slang on Twitter.

- The first prehistoric bird probably had black feathers.

- The same basketball teams will always dominate March Madness.

Coburn says a full report, coming out soon, will show how $95 billion defense dollars could be saved painlessly over 10 years. Savings of $25 billion would come alone if the Pentagon could audit itself, which it hasn't been able to do yet in the 22 years since the law started requiring it.

  • Sharyl Attkisson
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.