Unfortunately, the biggest pots of money have the largest number of dedicated guardians. Interest on the national debt must be paid, unless Uncle Sam is prepared to default, like Greece. Seniors form a phalanx around Social Security and Medicare. Medicaid already ill serves the poor and underpays doctors. The military‐industrial complex fights as hard for weapons spending today as it did against communism during the Cold War.
About all that’s left is domestic discretionary spending, roughly 15 percent of the budget. Most everyone in Washington talks about freezing or cutting these outlays, but nothing ever happens. Politicians want pork to distribute and interest groups want grants, loans, loan guarantees, tax preferences, and all manner of other privileges funded by government. Whether Republicans or Democrats are in control, the taxpayers’ money continues to be wasted.
Last year the deficit was $1.3 trillion. That means every “discretionary” outlay effectively came from borrowed money. Loans that must be repaid. By taxpayers in a weak economy made permanently smaller by the diversion of otherwise productive resources to political projects.
If Congress doesn’t have the courage to cut even these expenditures, then what hope is there that it will bring the nation back from hundreds of trillions in future overspending?
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is a rarity on Capitol Hill, a scourge of the wasteful foolishness which emanates from the Potomac. In his view “perhaps there was no bigger waste of the taxpayers’ money in 2011 than Congress itself.” Lots of people talk about “waste,” but few do anything about it. Sen. Coburn identified 100 really dumb projects and collected them in the “2011 Wastebook: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending of 2011.” It is a great place to start cutting unnecessary government.
Number one is obvious with the approach of another presidential election. As of November Presidential Election Campaign Fund contained $35.38 million. What could be dumber than forcing the American people to pay for the campaigns and conventions of the very politicians who created today’s mess? At least President Barack Obama is helping to destroy the system by eschewing public funding.
The 99 other examples of waste? The U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) spent $30 million to spur mango production and sales in Pakistan — and failed utterly. The Air Force spent $14 million to switch three radar stations to wind power; poor planning forced cancellation of one turbine and consideration of the same for the other two. The Federal Aviation Administration devoted $6 million to subsidize air service at small, underused airports.
A federal grant for $765,828 went to — I am not making this up, to quote Dave Barry — bring an International House of Pancakes franchise to Washington, D.C. Although the famed “Bridge to Nowhere” might never be built, Uncle Sam still shelled out $15.3 million in project costs, including a 14‐minute promotional video, on top of $50 million already absorbed by the Knik Arm Bridge. The Office of Personnel Management sent $120 million to dead federal employees (actually, they probably did less harm than the live ones!).
The Department of Transportation spent $529.689 to create the fourth visitor center around the 54 mile Talimena Scenic Drive between Oklahoma and Arkansas. A check for $113,277 was cut to help the International Center for the History of Electronic Games to preserve “historic” video games. Washington helpfully gave almost $18 million in foreign aid to China — money effectively borrowed from China. The Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a $484,000 grant to build a “Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers” restaurant in Texas.
Uncle Sam sent $100,000 to the Washington State Fruit Commission to stage a “celebrity chef fruit promotion road show” in Indonesia. U.S. AID gave $10 million to an arts organization in Pakistan — a country threatened with disintegration — to produce local episodes of Sesame Street. Then there was $150,000 for the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. Another HUD grant, this one for $1 million, went to a foreign architectural firm to move its headquarters from Santa Monica to Los Angeles. The federal government cut a check for $550,000 to underwrite a documentary on the impact of rock and roll on the collapse of communism.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided a $702,558 grant for the study of the impact of televisions and gas generators on villages in Vietnam. Hawaii’s annual Chocolate Festival collected $48,700 from Washington. People who didn’t own homes, such as children and prisoners, claimed as much as a billion dollars in tax credits for promoting energy efficiency in their homes. The Department of Commerce gave $936,818 to create a web TV soap opera on single moms to spur adoption of broadband.
Michigan received $75,000 to promote Christmas trees and poinsettias. The State Department spent $350,000 to underwrite an arts festival in Venice, Italy. NIH gave the University of Kentucky $175,587 to study the impact of cocaine on the sex drive of Japanese quail. A grant for $2 million went to Washington State’s Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.
The Department of Agriculture spent $200 million — still not real money in the nation’s capital — to promote industry groups, cooperatives, and corporations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spent $385,005 to survey what bus riders thought of HIV videos. Maine collected $95,000 to purchase iPads for kindergarteners. The Agency for Health Research and Quality spent more than $1 million to get people to visit its website. The National Science Foundation (NSF) used $200,000 to see what the public thinks of politicians and climate change.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) gave $916,567 to underwrite horse‐drawn carriage exhibits and survey shipwrecks in Wisconsin. The Veterans Administration spent $221,540 on a conference on disability ratings. NSF spent $300,000 for tourism podcasts in Alaska. The IRS used $862,000 to store unused furniture and equipment. NSF (again!) spent nearly a half million dollars to study whether people trust Tweets from Twitter. U.S. AID devoted $12 million to help the hapless Pakistanis use less energy.
The Oregon Cheese Guild received $50,400 to promote cheese. HUD gave $168 million, still pocket change in Washington, to the federally chartered Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, deemed unnecessary and duplicative by the Congressional Budget Office. The Agriculture Department, another multiple offender, spent $73,824 to encourage bed and breakfasts to use local produce. New Hampshire’s Museum on the History of Skiing received $86,000.
Fraud and waste in wartime contracting may have cost about $4.4 billion. Now that’s real money!
Uncle Sam spent $111,000 to send brewery experts to conduct classes in China. A grant for $24,632 went for the Milwaukee Public Museum to produce a 3-D virtual mummy unwrapping. NSF (won’t they ever stop?) provided $149,990 for production of a guppy‐to‐fish video game. The Department of Agriculture spent $9.49 million on a duplicative program in management of foreign forests which even the White House wants to eliminate. Washington used $697,006 to beautify Las Vegas highways.
The ubiquitous NSF spent $764,825 to study student social networking. The equally wastral Agriculture Department devoted $171,050 for a farm marketing effort in Vermont. The federal government paid $136,555 so teachers could retrace the steps of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Energy Department’s $231 million weatherization program was inefficient, wasteful and duplicative.
U.S. AID underwrote a $1.35 million “entrepreneurship initiative” in Barbados. The Coast Guard spent $24,450 on a float in the Mardi Gras. NSF (yet again!) spent $126,242 on a study of campaign websites. Salt Lake City received $150,000 to renovate a carriage house. The Department of Transportation spent $8.3 million to preserve covered bridges. Wine promotion benefited from $62,000 in federal promotional funds. Another $206,214 went to develop games to promote nutrition. Uncle Sam cut a check for $60,000 to count trees in Henderson, Nevada.
More than $22 million went for the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Program at the CDC, which duplicated similar efforts at the Department of Agriculture. The latter gave $181,966 for Tennessee to develop a smart phone app for special crop producers. NSF provided $300,000 to study the effectiveness of leaders of the European Parliament. A grant for $100,000 went to help the Massachusetts video game industry.
The Department of Defense spent $207 million on a duplicative second engine design for the F-35 fighter. NIH, also a repeat offender, spent $55,382 to study hookah smoking in Jordan. The Department of Homeland Security used $6,279 to purchase Snow Cone ice‐making machines for emergency services in Michigan. The Agriculture Department, a perpetual waster, gave Oklahoma $93,000 to promote specialty crops. The ever busy NSF devoted $300,000 to developing a dance program to illustrate the origins of matter.
The National Institute for Aging paid researchers $610,908 to survey well‐being around the world. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provided $50,000 for a self‐guided art tour in Wisconsin. The Technology Innovation Program spent $45 million subsidizing the research of numerous large, profit‐making corporations. The Department of State spent $30,000 to send a New York City dance company to Indonesia. NSF — they never stop! — devoted a half million dollars to studying “information dissemination” on the Web.
The Department of Agriculture spent $12 million on a duplicative energy assistance program which both the Bush and Obama administrations proposed closing. U.S. AID consumed $156,273 celebrating its 50th anniversary of spending lots of money with little positive effect. The Agriculture Department — yet again! — devoted $15 million to repairing privately‐owned rental property for low income people. The Rural Business Enterprise Grant program gave the Kriemhild Dairy Farms $55,660 to buy a new butter packing machine. NEA provided $50,000 to underwrite an international film festival in San Francisco.
The ever‐busy NSF gave nearly a half million dollars for a children’s chemistry theater. Some $50 million went for retrofitting diesel engines as part of an Environmental Protection Agency program which even the Obama administration wanted to kill. The Air Force Academy spent $51,474 to construct an outdoor worship center for “earth‐based” religions. NSF provided $425,642 to study information dissemination and Indian politicians. A Missouri museum collected $300,000 for an exhibit on the history of transportation.
The National Endowment for Humanities paid $159,865 to send 16 university professors to Rome for five weeks. The duplicative Rail Line Relocation Program collected $10.5 million despite President Obama’s attempt to end the outlay. The Department of State used $306,000 to bring European college students to America to learn civic activism. Columbia University collected $606,000 for a study of online dating. Uncle Sam gave $74,470 to a Utah museum to teach puppetry. The Appalachian Regional Commission, one of four “economic development” agencies, spent $68 million despite having no measurable effect on economic development.
NSF, ye gods!, used $198,195 to study what people expect from social media. Washington devoted $25,000 to transcribe a traditional love ballad in the Maldives. U.S. AID, another unrepentant recidivist, spent $15 million in a program permeated by waste and fraud to help Afghan war victims. NIH devoted $592,527 to study why chimpanzees throw objects. NSF used $130,987 to review the use of robots to promote language skills in preschoolers. The Transportation Department gave Louisiana $5.18 million to build the Steamboat Overlook Interpretive Center.
The never idle NSF gave $338,998 for researchers to, I am not making this up, study the impact of women on the Icelandic textile industry. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering received $50,000 from Washington. The Agriculture Department devoted $742,907 to study using “targeted sheep grazing” against weeds. The Federal Highway Administration gave Washington, D.C. $83,000 to upgrade planter boxes in the median of a major street.
The Treasury Department spent $184 million to keep the paper dollar bill in circulation. NSF gave PBS $130,000 to redesign the website for one of its shows. Nearly half a million dollars went to the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, which no president has supported since its creation two decades ago, to promote activities “for the benefit of mankind.”
It’s quite a list of silly and frivolous government expenditures. But it is only a small beginning.
Save all the money from killing these programs and America still would be going broke. Much more needs to be cut.
However, Sen. Coburn has provided a good starting point. Legislators of both parties insist that outlays must be reduced. Here is their chance.
If they won’t get rid of ridiculous programs like these, they won’t take on serious programs like Social Security and the Pentagon. And if they won’t do that, then Uncle Sam might as well start filling out his papers to declare bankruptcy.