Interviews

Sen. Coburn Blasts Wasteful Spending

Oklahoma senator unveils report exposing $3B in waste at National Science Foundation

 

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF “YOUR WORLD”: All right, I can’t make this up, your tax money at work, folks. I kid you not. They’re testing a shrimp’s ability to exercise. Go.

Just one of the many costly little ditties uncovered at the National Science Foundation. But -- well, actually, that’s an impressive shrimp.

To the guy doing the uncovering, Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

That’s just one of them, right? I mean, there are plenty more, Senator, right?

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Yes.

Well, Neil, this is one my favorite agencies. They really do -- the vast majority of their work is great. I put this report out because here’s a $6 billion-plus-a-year agency that we know we can save $800 million or $900 million, maybe $1.2 billion a year, if they’d just do a great job of screening out junk and waste and making sure they are running the agency like Americans would want them to run it.

I’m a cancer survivor. A lot of what they have funded and done has helped me immensely. But I -- what I -- the point I was wanting to make is, even our best agencies have room to cut spending.

CAVUTO: Well, there’s a lot of it here, the $1.5 million creating a robot to fold clothes. I guess many folks would -- would like that. But how’s the robot doing? Did it indeed fold clothes?

COBURN: I’m not following up on it. It just -- it caught my eye.

CAVUTO: OK.

Now, there was a separate study to look which teams and why some dominate college basketball’s so-called March Madness. Any results from that particular study?

COBURN: Well, the results are -- is a mispriority by the National Science Foundation on their grants. And that’s the biggest criticism, is, they’re not overseeing the grants to make sure that there’re priority things that we should be doing, given our limited budget in the country.

When we are studying on how -- dating on Facebook and we are studying about whether or not people are making racial choices in their dating, we’re not doing what we need to be doing that will give us the biggest bang for our buck.

And so my criticism is, I love this agency, I think they’re great, but I think they can do a whole lot better, and they need to, and all the American people have to do is look at some of the grants that got past them and know.

And the other thing is, is they had $1.5 billion sitting in grant money that should’ve come back to the federal government that they didn’t ask for.

CAVUTO: Well, maybe you just jumped too fast, Senator.

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COBURN: That’s $1.5 billion we don’t have to borrow.

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CAVUTO: I understand. But maybe you were a bit too rash on this whole Jell-O wrestling. Now, what was that about?

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COBURN: You mean the Jell-O wrestling? That was the previous one, I think. I don’t think that’s in this report.

CAVUTO: OK. Now, this particular video we’re showing has nothing to do with the NSF employees who were part of this Jell-O wrestling thing.

COBURN: No.

CAVUTO: But -- but what were they trying to study there? Do you know? Or...

COBURN: I don’t know.

But the point is, again, lots of -- lots of wild things that most people would common sense would say maybe we ought to not be doing that. So what is required now, with the situation we find ourselves in, in our country is to actually say every agency every time, do the best, most efficient that gives us the greatest return. And if you’re going to get grants out there, then make sure you know what you are doing and make sure it passes the smell test with the American public.

CAVUTO: We’ll leave that out in reference to the Jell-O wrestling.

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CAVUTO: I did want to say that we did try to reach out to the NSF.

And Dana Topousis from that organization said: "NSF has been diligent about addressing concerns from members of Congress about work force and grant management issues. And NSF’s excellent record of tracking down waste and prosecuting wrongdoing is apparent from Senator Coburn’s report."

In adding all these cases that you cited, Senator, they do, when all is said and done, maybe amount to a few hundred million dollars, at the worst.

COBURN: No.

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CAVUTO: So, but you add some of the others up, and you want to get to the $3 billion, I can see that. So, your critics are saying, well, you know its chump change in the scheme of things.

What do you say?

COBURN: Nothing is chump change for us, Neil. We are flat broke.

And everything -- if we can save $500 million at the NSF or $1 billion, which is what I think we can save at the NSF, if it’s run better, that is $1 billion out of 1,000 that we have got to get for next year, and we ought to be doing it.

And so there’s -- nothing should be overlooked. When people are managing their own households, they don’t look -- overlook things, and we ought not be doing it either.

CAVUTO: Remember the late great William Proxmire, who had Golden Fleece Awards?

COBURN: Yes.

CAVUTO: And he would cite abuse and waste and all of that sort of stuff.

But, invariably, they would never address or get rid of the program or funding that he called into question. I don’t know if that was all the time, but a lot of time. And I’m wondering, despite your best efforts, Senator -- and I know you’re trying to weed this out and trying to separately deal with the Medicare issue -- and you have had this frosty relationship with the so-called gang of six, I guess gang of five, maybe six, if you join them back -- that nothing will come of this, that nothing will come of this?

COBURN: I don’t think that’s true.

As long as I’m in the Senate, I can tell you, lots of things have come of what we have looked at. This is about our 18th or 19th report on agencies. And we’re seeing major changes in most of them. And the fact is, is, we’re doing what every member ought to be doing. And that’s a vigorous oversight and looking over their shoulder.

And that’s where Congress has failed the American people. We are responsible. We allow this to happen. And if we’re not doing oversight, it won’t happen.

The second point I would make is I don’t have a frosty relationship. I have a great relationship with the guys in the gang of six. And my point was is I thought I could spend my efforts better solving the problems outside of there for a while.

CAVUTO: Well, are you going to rejoin them, then?

COBURN: I don’t know. It depends.

CAVUTO: On what?

COBURN: I’m on sabbatical. So, when I finish my sabbatical, I’ll look at it.

We are working on $9 trillion worth of things that we could cut in the federal government that would actually make a difference for our country, and we’re going to let everybody shoot at that. And I’m going to go out and defend every one of them.

And then I’m going to take it to the American people and say, why don’t you want to do this? This is what it’s going to take to solve our problems, so we don’t kill our grandchildren.

CAVUTO: Senator, thank you very much.

COBURN: You’re welcome.

CAVUTO: Hope the sabbaticals not too long, Senator Coburn. All right.

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