In retirement, Coburn still making an impact
TOM Coburn left public office in early 2015. He has not left the public square, for which Oklahomans should be grateful.
Coburn, a Republican from Muskogee, has stayed busy speaking and writing about issues that were important to him when he served in the U.S. Senate and remain important to him, and the country, today.
Most recently he joined Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed about the troubling growth in the number of federal agencies that are armed. Coburn is honorary chairman of OpenTheBooks.com, which stores public spending records. It's a project of American Transparency, a
nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.
Coburn and Andrzejewski wrote that there are 200,000 non-Defense Department federal officers who are authorized to make arrests and carry firearms, which they noted exceeds the number of U.S. Marines. "In its escalating arms and ammo stockpiling, this federal arms race is unlike anything in history," they wrote.
Coburn and Andrzejewski outlined several examples of head-scratching purchases by agencies in a nine-year period extending through 2014,
- The Internal Revenue Service, an agency with 2,316 special agents, spent almost $11 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment.
- The Environmental Protection Agency spent $3.1 million in the same areas, and poured nearly $800 million into its "Criminal Enforcement Division."
- The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $11.66 million, including $200,000 on night-vision equipment and $2.3 million for body armor. The VA employs 3,700 law enforcement officers at its medical centers nationwide.
- The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spent $4.77 million on, among other things, shotguns, rifles, remote-control helicopters, night-vision goggles and liquid explosives.
The Smithsonian, the U.S. Mint, the Small Business Administration, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Social Security Administration … these are among the 67 agencies unaffiliated with the Defense Department that OpenTheBooks.com found have spent money to arm themselves in one way or another.
Coburn and Andrzejewski wrote that conservatives and progressives alike have raised an eyebrow about these expenditures, and with good reason. But the agencies themselves aren't saying much of anything. The authors asked the IRS for an accounting of the agency's guns and ammo by location and were told it didn't have one.
"Our data shows that the federal government has become a gun show that never adjourns," they wrote. "Taxpayers need to tell Washington that police powers belong primarily to cities and states, not the feds."
In May, Coburn joined a former U.S. senator and fellow physician Bill Frist to write in support of a package of bills being considered by Congress that seek to save time and money in the medical field. They noted that the legislation would streamline the regulatory process for new drugs and medical devices, enhance the prospects of more doctors using electronic health records, bolster the Food and Drug Administration and advance the understanding of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Together, "these 19 bills are expected to deliver new, safe and effective treatments," Coburn and Frist wrote. "Any political impediments to this should be overcome immediately."
Will Coburn succeed in persuading former colleagues and agency heads to act in the best interest of the country? That's a tall order. Regardless, we're happy to see he continues to make relevant contributions to the debate over the size and scope of government.