Commentary

The Waste Awakens Never, to Sleep Again

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) follows retired Tom Coburn in reporting on the ludicrous waste of taxpayer dollars in Washington. In advance of the latest Star Wars movie release, Flake issued Wastebook 2015: The Farce Awakens. Alas, the waste never sleeps. One of the few constants in Washington is tossing taxpayers’ hard-earned cash not just to special interests who hire the best lobbyists, but for misbegotten purposes that only Uncle Sam could imagine.

The Wastebook showcases 100 nutty expenditures. It explains that each outlay “represents thousands, millions or, in some cases, billions of dollars that could have been better spent on cancer research, strengthening national defense, caring for veterans, or not spent at all to reduce our debt.” So much for that dreadful austerity that congressional spendthrifts claim we are suffering through.

For instance, the National Institutes of Health spent about $10 million underwriting studies of monkeys on treadmills. Researchers said the results should be helpful to “address physiological responses of exercise in a marmoset model.”

The Agency for International Development dropped $2.1 million on tourism promotion for Lebanon, a developed nation which four decades ago jumped into the abyss of civil war. Last May the State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid visiting this neighbor of Syria “because of ongoing safety and security concerns.” Nevertheless, rock-climbing is a recommended activity.

The National Institutes of Health used $5 million to convince “hipsters” to stop smoking. Parties were organized to lobby Hipsters; payments were made to Hipsters to quit tobacco.

The National Science Foundation provided $5 million to figure out how long a “koozie” would keep a beer cold. Researchers instructed drinkers not to wipe off condensation drops, which would warm the drink.

For most of us, the loss of a few thousand or million dollars matters. But obviously not in the nation’s capital.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse spent almost $1 million to learn that pizza may be as addictive as crack cocaine. At least to college students. No word yet on whether the Obama administration plans a War on Pizza.

The Department of Homeland Security devoted $3 million to subsidize intercity bus companies. One of the grantees advertised that its party bus “will impress you and your friends with its laser light show, LED mood lighting, and satellite TV system.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will spend $104.4 million in 2016 to subsidize housing for people who make too much money to be eligible for the program. One local official opposed kicking them out, since they are “role models for the rest.”

The National Pork Board is dropping $3 million for a slogan, “The Other White Meat,” which the body no longer uses. The money goes to the National Pork Producers Council which, not coincidentally, lobbies on behalf of the pork industry.

The Department of Agriculture (known as USDA) spent $119 million in 2015 to underwrite the tobacco industry. Whose prime product the government is paying Hipsters not to use.

The Department of Defense spent $43 million to build one gas station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The facility only sells compressed natural gas, which few vehicles use. But such ostentatious waste is endemic to aid projects in Afghanistan.

HUD provided $210,000 to Maine Stitching Specialties, which make dog clothes. A couple years ago it received money from the Small Business Administration.

NASA spent nearly $300,000 to consider the possibility of creating “cloud cities” above the planet of Venus. Blueprints were drafted, even though there was no money to move forward.

AID devoted $21.5 million to promoting political parties in Pakistan. The U.S. is widely reviled in this military-dominated democracy, which long supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and hosted Osama bin Laden.

NSF showed up again with nearly $1 million to subsidize wine industry programs at three colleges. The classes emphasize wine-tasting by students not otherwise old enough to drink.

NSF provided another $276,194 to figure out the impact of physical attraction on dating. Spoiler alert: physical attractiveness speeds positive results.

The Department of Defense, with nothing else in the world to do, is spending $2 million to develop music-playing robots. Both trumpet and jazz.

NSF shows up again with $2.6 million to promote the use of art for science. Like mimicking moisture vaporizers from the first Star Wars movie.

USDA provided $68,000 to encourage the export of beer, spirits, and wine to Vietnam. By bringing Vietnamese to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, among other things.

NSF dropped nearly a million dollars to study how online dating affects relationships. It has affected them.

SBA provided $8500 to Circus Mojo, a Kentucky traveling circus, to travel. The players joined the governor on a trade mission to Canada.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid $180,000 to elevate a beachfront cottage five feet in Massachusetts. After spending $40,000 a few years before to raise the building three feet.

NSF spent $2.6 million studying why tweets are retweeted. It helps to be a celebrity and write well.

USDA devoted $17,500 to “weight sensitivity training.” The professor in charge complained about being “self-conscious about my appearance in my workout clothes.”

The National Endowment for the Arts, once famous for subsidizing blasphemous art, spent $60,000 on a zombie theater production. The play, featuring zombies in the White House basement, included “strong adult content, sexual situations, nudity, and fog.” Reviews were caustic.

NSF dropped nearly a million bucks to study fighting by mantis shrimp. The Smithsonian provided additional funds so researchers could judge 34 fights between the Stomatopoda. Size didn’t always determine the winner.

NASA provided $3 million for a mock trip to Mars filmed in Hawaii. Conclusion: personality conflicts arise when people are stuck together for an extended time.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services tossed $20,000 to a D.C. library to document the latter’s “Punk Archive.” One Punk musician said the project thrilled his mother.

The Department of State provided a $35,000 grant to promote cartooning in India. Which, the Department admitted, already has “a rich history of cartooning.”

NSF gave $185,000 to help New York’s Ithaca College host a “Back to the Future Day.” It featured action figures on hoverboards.

USDA devoted nearly a million dollars to Vermont Law School’s “How to Use a Lawyer” guide. The law school called it “vital work.”

The Economic Development Administration provided $581,000 for a Heritage and Technology Park. The “development” corporation went bankrupt and EDA is demanding repayment from Ford City, Pennsylvania.

DOD spent $13.6 million on a robotics competition. The robots were dismal, but the organizer was happy that their failure helped “connect people to one another” as viewers groaned at the results.

USDA again joined in with $79,000 for a “Broadway and Brunch” party in Redlands, California. Guests got to sing their favorite show tunes at an event intended to promote Redlands’ farmers.

USDA provided a lot more, $5 million, to hand out the “Ultimate Tailgating Package” to fans attending a University of Nebraska football game. No one ever accused Husker fans of not knowing how to tailgate.

State dropped $50,000 on “Maker Faire” festivals in Russia to showcase U.S. products. Washington has imposed sanctions on Russia.

The Department of Transportation gave $50,000 to Kansas City to hold a street festival. An organizer said people would be invited “to come out and play in the street.”

USDA offered a $55,000 grant to study the potential of commercial reindeer herding in Alaska. Industry officials say the biggest problem in meeting existing demand has been department regulations governing the slaughter and processing of what it labels “game meat.”

On the waste goes. Money for a robot lobby greeter, fat detector, sexist anti-drunk driving campaign, “ethanol blender pumps,” piñata appreciation, “Boat to Plate” app for fish eaters, reader recommendations for library patrons, and more. Much more.

When you next hear a Washington official complain about how the federal government is starved for revenue and it isn’t possible to cut even a dollar from Uncle Sam’s allowance, think about Sen. Flake’s Wastebook. For most of us, the loss of a few thousand or million dollars matters. But obviously not in the nation’s capital. It’s past time for voters to change that.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a member of the Advisory Board of the Acton Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction) and Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Crossway).