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