Government Spending

The Year in Government Waste: Bridges to Nowhere, Pancakes for Yuppies, Sesame Street for Pakistan


A million dollars is nothing nowadays. Just ask the Pentagon, which spent $20 billion a year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which spent more than $240 million on erection-enhancing penis pumps over the same time period. But the government does even stupider things with smaller amounts of money. Like dumping $800,000 into an IHOP franchise for D.C. residents. 

Such frivolity but might not spell the death of the republic, but it's nevertheless a sign of government self-indulgence. In Wastebook: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending of 2011, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) lists some of the cheaper but no less wasteful projects currently being funded by the federal government. "As you look at these examples," writes Coburn, "regardless of your personal political persuasion, ask yourself: Would you agree with Washington these represent national priorities or would you agree these reflect the wasteful spending habits that threaten to bankrupt the future of the American Dream?"

Let's run down the list, shall we? 

  • Republican and Democratic Party conventions: $17.7 million (each) 
  • A mango-production program for Pakistani farmers that was abandoned after one year and caused many farmers to default on loans taken out in anticipation of increased productivity: $30 million 
  • A project to convert three Air Force radar stations from diesel to wind energy that has since been abandoned: $14 million
  • The construction of an IHOP in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Columbia Heights (which Coburn refers to as "pancakes for yuppies"): $800,000
  • A promotional video for an Alaskan bridge that very well might not get built, titled 'The Knik Arm Crossing, Bridge to Our Future": $57,390 (out of $15.3 million spent this year on the bridge) 
  • Pension payments to dead federal employees: $120 million
  • A fourth visitors center on the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive that runs between Talihina, Oklahoma (Pop. 2,522) to Mena, Arkansas (Pop. 5,637): $529,689
  • Funding for video game preservation at the International Center for the History of Electronic Games: $100,000
  • Aid to China, the U.S.'s biggest lender, for social and environmental programs: $17.8 million
  • Seed money for the "drug-themed" Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakery in Austin: $484,000
  • "Celebrity Chef Fruit Promotion Road Show in Indonesia": $100,000
  • Funding for Pakistan's Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop to create "130 episodes of an indigenously produced Sesame Street": $10 million 
  • Research funding for the American Museum of Magic to "better understand its various audiences and their potential interest in the history of magic entertainment": $147,138
  • Energy efficient home improvement tax credits for children, prisoners, and other people who do not own homes: $1 billion
  • Research funding for a study to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior: $175,587

The list goes on and on

NEXT: Innocent Man Who Spent 25 Years in Prison Tries to Hold Prosecutor Accountable

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  1. mike – fix the pension payments to federal employees, and the misspelling of “aide to china”. Then delete this comment.

  2. Why does Reason hate enhanced erections and risky quail sex?

    1. because libertarians are just rethuglicans who like pot.

    2. Because the purpose of the government-funded enhanced erections is to have risky sex with quails?

      1. The government is fascinated with fucking anything in any way possible.

      2. Eeeeewwwwwww

  3. I don’t think taxes should ever be raised on anyone as long as ridiculousness like this exists.

    1. ^^THIS^^

      Where is Tony to tell us that if we cut even one cent from the budget it means old people in the streets eating cat food?

  4. Ya know, Pancakes for Yuppies would be a good name for a hipster/ironic folk-rock band.

    1. It never is. Ever.

  5. Where is social security on the list?

  6. Fucking IHOP needs earmarks? Mellow Mushroom? Good thing I’m already effectively boycotting these franchises.

    1. I made the mistake of trying Mellow Mushroom. I say this as someone who loves pizza, could eat it three meals a day, and had a raging case of the munchies- this was inedible. Not even the Idea of Pizza.

      1. Further downthread, Matrix says he loves it.

        One of you is wrong.

        One of you must die.

        1. It’s not terrible, but it’s very low on the list of pizza joints I would hit. In Lexington there are at least 5-7 pizza joints in a 2 square block area near UK, Mellow Mushroom being one of them. It is 2nd to last on the list of where I would go were I interested in pizza, behind only Mad Mushroom.

          The problem with it is the sauce is WAY too sweet.

          1. Behind Mad Mushroom? How many Mushroom-titled pizza places are there? I’ve never even heard of one until today, and I grew up in Kentucky (Paducah).

        2. In fairness, Tallahassee has a ridiculously deep bench in pizza for some reason. There are 3-4 high quality local places that I’d eat at in preference to any chain. With MM being in front of only the other college town chains, Gumby’s and Hungy Howies.

    2. I stopped going to mellow mushroom a while back. Their pizza kinda sucks.

      1. And the idea of them trying to compete with a pizza place like Homeslice in Austin is fucking laughable.

  7. Top. Men.

  8. And yet, at any level of government, if you threaten a budget cut the pols will tell you they have no choice but to cut essential services like police and fire departments. There is nothing else they can possibly cut.

    On a similar note.. I saw a news story the other day about a NY firefighter who had caught fire and had to be rescued by another firefighter. When the chief was interviewed, he said it wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t forced to have staffing cuts.

    1. I don’t think it’s the budget cuts. I knew a firefighter who once tried to get a fire going with gasoline. Much hilarity ensued. Yes beer was involved.

      1. This man is not prepared for his shift to the Montagian fireman force.

  9. Hey, it’s all a part of an efficient social safety net!

  10. Aw, I thought that was Columbia Heights, Minnesota, where I grew up. If you’re gonna waste money, do it for the sake of my nostalgia.

  11. You think air conditioning in Iraq is a “frivolity”? I invite you to go over there in the summer when it’s regularly 120 degrees, spend several hours in full body armor patrolling the streets, and then head back to an non-air conditioned metal trailer.

    1. ah, the costs of an interventionist foreign policy?

      1. You can criticize the policy itself (which the author did not do), but given the decision to intervene, air conditioning is no more of frivolity than rifles, ammo, or body armor.

        1. agreed. I was just pointing out (to myself mostly) that such policies carry costs outside of those that come to mind for many people.

    2. I don’t think air conditioning is being referenced here as frivolous.

      I think they’re just trying to say that when your air conditioning bill is 20 billion, it’s easy for an attitude to set in where you think spending a million on quail sex is peanuts.

  12. Unleashing Elmo on any country has to be a violation of some treaty somewhere.

    1. It is, the Geneva Convention.

      Waterboarding? Pishaw, make them listen to Elmo for a few hours!

      1. This is the song,
        La-la la-la,
        Elmo’s Song!

        La-la la-la,
        La-la la-la,
        Elmo’s song!

        Step one: Rhyme ‘song’ with ‘song’.
        Step two: Fuck rhyming and words, in general.
        Step three: Profit.

        1. Electric Company > Sesame Street

  13. Columbia Heights is an interesting mix of yuppies (that mostly work for the government), homeless people, and Hispanics. But looking at wiki’s census data it seems to be 58% Black, 35% Hispanic, 5.4% White, and 3.1% “other.”

    1. Funny that you would be so concerned about the racial makeup of the neighborhood, Juice!

      (not making fun of you personally, it’s a Sons of Anarchy reference.

      1. If the MC finds out, he will lose his patch!

        I seriously don’t get this. When did Samcro become white supremacists?

        1. I was surprised to find out that Hap wasn’t black. It was a shitty angle to get the new (black) sheriff on the MC’s side against the [plot spoilers removed].

        2. They aren’t supremacists per se, I think the implication is that, when the club was formed in the early 70s, there was still a ton of racial tension, so an exlusionary law was part of the founding charter, and has just never been repealed.

    2. thats 2000 census figures – back then it was a dump – now the yuppies have moved in – its got a best buy, a target, a crate and barrel and a bunch of overly expensive condos.

      The racial makeup im sure is much different for the 2010 census data.

    1. In libertopia it would obviously be Sesame Tollway.

    2. Note that Ernie and Burt don’t exist in that dojo.

  14. I need to come up with a ridiculous grant for myself. Like $2.4 million dollars to determine if spending a week indoors playing video games, watching porn and masturbating furiously affects my body odor.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. These guys can get handouts, but my research group can’t find $25k to fund me next year to do research in biomass to chemical feedstock.

      1. What about the Sun Grant centers or whatever they’re called?

        1. I don’t get it. But the two docs I was working for put up no fewer than 15 grant proposals in 12 months. I’m sure now that I’m back working for a living again, one will come through.

    2. I think it’s been done; the result was that you vote republican and shoot a democratic congressman

      1. No, you’re thinking of that Sarah Palin fundraising ad.
        For the most part, we manic masturbators just post at Hit and Run.

        1. Oh I get you Manchurian male candidates, and your targets suggestions confused:

          congressmen = dicks

          can you blame me?

  15. $113k for Video Game Preservation. I am such a fucking piker for not coming up with this.

  16. This is why the independence of the Federal Reserve Bank must be rigorously defended. When you’re borrowing forty cents of every dollar spent on vital stuff like this, the last thing you want is any sort of meaningful price signal on the cost of a dollar.

  17. Energy efficient home improvement tax credits for children, prisoners, and other people who do not own homes: $1 billion

    But… They might one day!

    I still have to wonder where $1 bill for homes that are not there would go instead.

  18. “Enjoy that pancake. It cost somebody a shitload of money.”

  19. $300k for a “proof-of-concept” podcast for tourist information? I have to stop. I’m developing a complex for being such a sucker as to have not tried this years ago.

  20. A mango-production program for Pakistani farmers that was abandoned after one year and caused many farmers to default on loans taken out in anticipation of increased productivity: $30 million

    I’m sure those mangos would’ve tasted like heaven.

    1. Katherine Mango Ward reported on it earlier.

      1. In a thread featuring Quail Gaze, you have some balls posting this second tier shit, Tim.

        1. I see now that I’ve wasted my life…

  21. Mellow Mushroom? The government finally did something right. Mmm…Philosopher’s Pie.

  22. When I see shit like this, I’m not so sure the children’s programming was a waste of money.  I kinda see it has prevented war antibiotics.

    1. Re: rather

      When I see shit like yours, I am not sure if whoring with librarians is such a good idea.

    2. Miss rather,

      OM makes me want to edit my quote

    3. I approve this message.

  23. Research funding for a study to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior: $175,587

    The results were to be used by the Quail Safe Sex Association, NGO. A subsequent press release could potentially set the minds of many a quail at ease.

    1. If it turns out the coke does have that effect, you can bet it’s the nefarious male quails using it to lower the inhibitions of the female quails, none of whom are then capable of entheusiastic consent.


      1. Also, they suffered from the dreaded…QUAIL GAZE!

        *rimshot* Thank you, I’ll be here all evening!

        1. Well played, sir. Now just step over here to where we put down punners.

  24. Columbia Heights is a shithole full of self-righteous assholes who take pictures of their food and/or beer at neighborhood restaurants and post it to Facebook.

    1. Columbia Heights in Washington? Years ago when I was young and actually got down to the District once in a while, it was a working class neighborhood. I guess the hipster douche bags have taken over there too?

      1. It’s a mix of hipster assholes and teenage thugs. With some of the worst traffic in DC.

    2. That is truly horrifying. Pictures, you say? Posted by narcissists for narcissists? It’s like a chatroom for foodies. Despicable!

      1. I am pro-food-porn, and wish you arid-souled Puritans would just butt out.

  25. Are you sure it wasn’t for high-risk Quayle sex?

  26. You know, that Coburn report is a pretty slickly-produced document. I wonder much it cost to put together.

  27. This is what happens when we have a monopoly government. The American people should be free to make competing governments. Let the marketplace of anarchy work!

  28. So the Pakistani people are to think ‘What’ of Miss Piggy? *Chuckles*

    1. that they shouldn’t eat her?

  29. man, I love Mellow Mushroom. Had it this weekend in fact. But I don’t think tax money should go to support it.

  30. A white guy, an orthodox Jew, and a white woman walk into a bar.

    The bartender says, “Get the fuck out.”

    1. Funniest part of that movie.

      Best thing is, it was only playing in the “arthouse” theater here in Plano, TX (full of rich white people), so my wife and I were the only two who burst out laughing at that. Everyone else sat in horrified silence.

      1. What movie is this?

          1. Ah.

            1. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. It truly is a masterpiece.

      2. Trying to remember which GF I saw it with. Must have been the vegetarian animal lover. I recall getting the “no lovin’ tonight” look. Which meant I was eating steak for dinner, so… I don’t think that worked in reality the way it worked in her mind. God Bless her, there were a lot of situations the former sentence described.

  31. “In one example the IG found, an annuitant’s son cashed his dead father’s checks for 37 years.
    The son’s scheme, which cost taxpayers more than $500,000, was discovered in 2008, when he
    himself died. ?The improper payment was not recovered,? the IG reported”

    Nice. *eyeroll*

  32. About a third of these sound like NSF or similar research projects that probably went through some pretty thorough peer review. They may sound laughable without the full 15 page proposal, but there may be some true value to the US in them. Alternatively, maybe the feds should get out of funding research altogether?

    Not sayin’…. just observin’.

  33. 29 trillion for bankers, wall street, hedge funds and the rich, cuts to social services and tax increases for the poor and middle class.

    Nuff said?

  34. 1. Take all the money spent this year, group it by line-item.
    2. Assign taxpayers randomly to each line item, so that their total taxes + per capita government borrowing cover the cost of the line item.
    2a. Bonus: Assign taxpayers not randomly, but rather in a way that maximizes anger and cognitive dissonance (hippies pay for the wars, socons for abortions, college kids for the drug war, etc…). The NSA can help you figure it out.
    3. Inform said taxpayers of what all the money they paid that year went towards.
    4. Sit back and watch the fireworks

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