(GUARDIAN) – The Defense Department’s Foreign Comparative Testing program is supposed to study weapons and combat technology and determine the appropriate gear for U.S. troops. That usually means testing body armor, batteries for battlefield electronics and mine-clearing systems.
But the program strayed from its normal work recently to study the culinary skill of turning thin strips of beef into jerky. The goal, officials say, was to make a beef jerky that was more like a Fruit Roll-Up – tastier and cheaper – than than the traditional grocery store fare.
The project, however, cost taxpayers $1.5 million and is unlikely to improve battlefield performance. And that has left some lawmakers in Congress incredulous that the money wasn’t spent on something more essential, especially in an era of soaring deficits, fiscal cliffs and impending defense budget cuts.
“While our men and women in uniform certainly would welcome new menu options, these dollars could be better spent at this time when sequestration imposed by the Budget Control Act is set to cut billions of dollars from our national defense budget,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who identified the program as an example of unnecessary spending at the Pentagon.
For doling out $1.5 million developing a snack that can be bought from the nearest grocery store, the Pentagon’s Foreign Comparative Testing program wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction given out by the Washington Guardian to the worst examples of government misspending.
The Pentagon isn’t apologetic, insisting its research into jerky is actually designed to save money. It’s cheaper to produce than store-bought jerky and will store longer, possibly up to three years, the Army said. Plus, the military jerky is less salty and more nutritious to better meet troops’ nutritional needs. A couple different flavors are being tested out, including salami, chipotle, turkey, smoked ham and fish.
“Warfighters like something that is meaty, tasty and healthy – a high energy product,” said Tom Yang, an Army food scientist. “This will make a lot of product. It’s very juicy, with whatever nutrient you want in there, and it will be well preserved.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said the nation’s military is always working to save taxpayers money.
“The DoD budget is aligned to strategic priorities we have identified to keep America safe and maintain the strongest military in the world,” she said. “Over the past several years we have redoubled our efforts to make better use of the taxpayer’s defense dollar and meet our fiscal responsibilities.”