Government Waste

News That Isn't News: Government Spends Money on Lots of Stupid Shit

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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has published his fifth installment of Wastebook, an annual tragicomic testimony to the power of diffused costs and concentrated benefits. The catalog of 100 asinine government expenditures is wholesome fun for the whole fiscally conservative family—especially your earnest Republican aunt who sends you chain emails with that Mark Twain quote we've all seen a million times. 

Coburn's report has it all, from government bailouts for a sheep research center in Idaho to high-end gym memberships for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees. So pour yourself a stiff drink (you'll need it), sit back, and prepare to have your priors confirmed and your hopes dashed. Because, really, if we can't stop the government from spending more than $300,000 to research synchronized sea monkey dancing, surely we are doomed.

Some spending snafus will be old hat to Reason readers. Taxpayer subsidies for sports stadia: $146 million. DHS grants for SWAT equipment to two sleepy New York towns: $200,000. A bankrupt United States Postal Service shipping groceries to remote Alaskan villages: $77 million.

Others should come as no surprise. The demolition of a new bridge because it was partially built with Canadian steel: $45,000. A grant for the Vermont Historical Society to chronicle the state's hippie movement: $117,521. The Pentagon destroying $6 billion worth of unneeded ammunition: $1 billion.

In total, Coburn documents $25 billion in ridiculous government spending. In a world of multitrillion-dollar budgets, that's a mere rounding error. But the report isn't meant to exhaustively document all government waste—not even the most egregious. After all, Medicaid improperly spent over $14 billion in 2013, which doesn't make the list. Rather, the report serves as a colorful reminder that flush, powerful government agencies combined with private special interests make for a polity straight out of Joseph Heller.

Read the whole thing here. And weep.

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  1. A grant for the Vermont Historical Society to chronicle the state’s hippie movement: $117,521.

    Groovy! I hope the VHS won’t be upset when someone “liberates” the chronicles.

  2. “spending more than $300,000 to research synchronized sea monkey dancing”

    If someone can do it for less, I’d like to see them try.

    1. Exactly. If the government doesn’t pay for it, who will? Sometimes you need to fund these things because the little people do not understand something like this could turn out to be good. Like cure cancer or something.

    2. I assume it’s intended to amp up support for it’s eventual inclusion in the Olympics so countries like Kiribati have a chance to snag gold in the future. Word is out that they have some badass athletic Artemia.

  3. The Pentagon destroying $6 billion worth of unneeded ammunition: $1 billion.

    Two questions:

    (1) What is “unneeded ammunition”? I am not familiar with this concept.

    (2) Don’t you destroy ammo by, gosh, using it? How does it cost $1BB to get rid of ammo?

    1. Apologies in advance to readers who may find that comment to be too tiresome.

      1. The funny thing is, your comment wasn’t tiresome, but then you went and made it incredibly tiresome with your tiresome hurt feelings. You just can’t resist it, can you?

        1. So, that was just a threading error? My original comment re routine traffic accident wasn’t tiresome after all?

          Imagine my relief. Unless it makes you too tired, of course.

          1. Oh, no, that comment was incredibly tiresome, as it always is when you 9-11-changed-everything-tarians gibber on about cosmotarians surrendering to sharia. The ammo comment was perfectly benign.

            Your hurt feelings remain incredibly tiresome, don’t worry.

            1. you 9-11-changed-everything-tarians gibber on about cosmotarians surrendering to sharia.

              So you actually think that Nidal Hassan shooting up an army base while shouting Allahu Akbar is workplace violence?

              Because that’s what I was mocking. Tiresomely, apparently.

        2. Warty must have been raped by MEGAWarty…

          He has sounded quite “butthurt” lately.

          Squat it off, you puny bitch.

      2. You are a smart guy, Mr. Dean. You know what’s tiresome.

    2. I would pay them for an opportunity to destroy some of that ammo. Especially if I got to destroy it with some of their guns that civilians don’t get to have.

      1. That’s not *destroying*, Zeb!

        That’s *using* the ammo to destroy, in which case it is *needed*.

        1. I know a Canadian bridge you could use for target practice while saving money.

    3. I thought that was what the next war is always for. We dropped our all our obsolete Vietnam era bombs on Iraq in 1991.

    4. Well, the White House couldn’t very just accidentally on purpose airdrop that much ammo to our brave, freedom-loving allies in the Free Syrian ArmyISIS.

    5. Ammunition that doesn’t work with the new weapon systems. All that grapeshot designed to be fired from 12-pounder artillery, for example.

      Why destroy it? Well, by its nature, and ignoring the grapeshot example above, it tends to be highly explosive if handled improperly.

      1. So sell it in hardware stores in the south. They can use it for fishing or removing stumps.

        1. People don’t fish in Maine?

          1. I should have said, sell it in hardware stores where rednecks live…..that would have encompassed Maine.

        2. Even better, sell it for use in cooking. Take in some extra money and cut down on the welfare rolls at the same time.

    6. Isn’t there an ammunition shortage? Couldn’t the Feds make beaucoup bucks selling some of that stuff off?

    7. Mustard gas. Is that ammo? A lot of money was spent getting rid of it on Johnston for quite a while.

    8. (2) Don’t you destroy ammo by, gosh, using it? How does it cost $1BB to get rid of ammo?

      1 billion double dollars, you say?

      Isn’t that the exact bounty on Vash the Stampede?

  4. Wouldn’t it be easier just to take the whole federal budget and cross out the stuff that isn’t wasteful?

    1. The non wasteful part would total approximately $1.98

      1. And that’s just a sales tax.

  5. Others should come as no surprise. The demolition of a new bridge because it was partially built with Canadian steel: $45,000

    That actually does surprise me. Wow.

    1. Fucking Canadians.

    2. Broken windows and all that. Broken Canadian windows, especially.

      1. More union awesomeness. We have to prop up the inefficient US steel industry somehow.

        1. British Steel was great. Is that banned now as well. American metal for American jobs!

          1. We made this bridge from 100% American products!

            *bridge collapses*

            It was the Canadians I tell you! THE CANADIANS!

          2. British Steel was great.

            “Breaking the law. Breaking the law”. /Beavis

            The cover of “Diamonds and Rust” rocked!

    3. That one is especially brilliant, because they just quote the cost of demolishing the bridge. You also need to factor in the cost of building it in the first place, and the cost of building the replacement bridge after they blew up the first one.

      1. I believe that the bridge with the Canadian steel was eventually allowed to stand and the whole story sort of dried up.

        (How did Coburn vote on the “Buy American” policy, BTW?)

  6. “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” – Mark Twain

  7. Would someone *kindly* explain why, when an agency is shown to have wasted $X, its funding is not immediately cut (*real* cut) by at least $X?

    1. Because only anarchist,racist, teabaggers want to cut spending. Also,STIMULUS!

      1. Your forgot SOMALIA!

        1. SOMALIAN TEABAGGERS!

    2. Because it’s not their money, because that’s what government does, and most importantly, fuck you that’s why.

    3. “Waste?”

      They spent the funds Congress gave them the way Congress told them to. Why would Congress call it waste?

    4. “Would someone *kindly* explain why, when an agency is shown to have wasted $X, its funding is not immediately cut (*real* cut) by at least $X?”

      Because the FedGov is a jobs program and said employees can usually be counted on to help keep the gravy train rolling.

  8. OT: I’m rewatching ‘Jericho’, and I ran into something that I keep seeing everywhere nowadays — cops referring to non-cops as civilians. People ARE aware that police officers are civilians vested with conditional authority, right?

    1. I was taught COP stands for Citizen On Patrol. That might be the only thing I remember from D.A.R.E.

      1. I think it’s “constable on patrol”.

        Some people suggest that “citizen” be used instead of “civilian” to refer to non-police, non-military people. But that’s nearly as bad. A cop ought to respect a person’s rights regardless of citizenship. How about “people”?

      2. Uh…no. It is short for ‘Copper’. They used to have copper badges.

        1. ^^THIS^^

        2. No, I think it’s short for ‘coprophage’.

          1. The only reason I know that word is that I used to own a Pomeranian.

            1. Yes, you learn things when you have dogs.

              1. I loved my Pom, but one thing I learned….don’t get a Pom.

              2. Some things can’t be unlearnt.

            2. I thought the only reason most people knew that word was because of NutraSweet and his stories.

              1. I have learned far worse things than that from those stories.

        3. Hmm. Yes, apparently COP as an acronym is a false etymology. I should have been more suspicious of that.
          But on digging a bit more, I find that yours is likely false as well. Most sources seem to agree that it comes from the verb “to cop” as in catch or sieze (e.g. “it’s a fair cop”). A copper was one who copped or arrested people and that was then shortened to “cop”

          1. First time I have heard that one. Interesting.

            1. Several legitimate looking dictionary sites seem to agree on it.

        4. Well that police officer didn’t know his stuff, then.

  9. This stuff is probably all wasteful. But I’m a whole lot more worried about stuff that is actually significant like the war on drugs, optional foreign interventions and various subsidies payed out through the IRS.

    1. What is the Department of Education, chopped liver?

      1. My list was not meant to be exhaustive. I do have to do some work at some point.

    2. These types of reports defnitely have their uses. My worry is that when it comes time to actually cutting spending (I know, I know, try to stop from laughing), politicians continually go after the low hanging but utterly insignificant (from a budgetary point of view) fruit. They can go home and use a report like this to claim they got rid of wasteful government. Meanwhile, the fiscal time bombs keep on ticking.

      1. Yeah, when I worked for the congressman his big selling point to his constituents was “I’m so fiscally conservative I return most of what I’m allotted to pay my staff.”

      2. Well, yes and no. The “low hanging” fruit is hard enough to pick on its own. Yes, you’d (and I’d) like to see them move on to the big stuff. But, too often the “don’t worry about the small stuff; there’s bigger fish to fry” approach winds up with neither the small stuff nor the big stuff cut. Moreover, as vile as McCain is, he did get one thing kinda sorta right – this sort of thing is the lubricant by which big government gets expanded. A Congressman on the fence about a new program can get a little more comfortable with the idea when one of these bits is dangled in front of him. Getting rid of the low hanging fruit makes attacking the big things easier. Finally, pointing this crap out helps to sensitize people to the fact that not all government spending is vital and part of the “nothing left to cut”.

        1. Getting rid of the low hanging fruit makes attacking the big things easier.

          Perhaps. But I am not convinced that many of the people making a big deal about the low hanging fruit have any intention of ever doing anything about the big stuff that would actually make some difference.

          1. Which goes back to my earlier point. Dismissing the low hanging fruit then just winds up neither gets cut.

  10. Don’t forget duplication. I guarantee that every federal bureaucratic empire that has any relationship to health, no matter how tangential, has their own teen pregnancy prevention program.

    1. I hope most of those programs are limited to lecturing their employees to stop fucking teenagers.

  11. And we can’t forget the Rabbit Massage

    “Taxpayer dollars that could have supported potentially more transformative research were instead spent on exercise and massage equipment for rabbits,” Coburn’s report says. “As for the rabbits, they were eventually euthanized, so while well massaged, those feet were not so lucky after all.”

    Coburn’s report quotes the Ohio State University Sports Medicine co-medical director who led the project as saying that the researchers “tried to mimic Swedish massage [for the rabbits.]”

    “It’s the most popular technique used by athletes,” Dr. Thomas Best said. The project cost $387,000 over a two-year period.

    1. Rabbit Massage

      Awwwwww. Their furry.

      As for the rabbits, they were eventually euthanized

      :'(

      Why did they need to breed and kill the rabbits?

      Rabbits received Swedish-style massages in a taxpayer-funded study, the Oklahoma Republican points out, in order to learn about how the massages might affect athletes attempting to recover from injuries.

      Why not just massage the athletes? No, honestly, why not? There can’t possibly be a substantial risk of harming human test subjects with massages. This isn’t some experimental drug.

      1. They probably needed to do some biopsies/dissections to evaluate the effectiveness of the massages. Not really an option with people.

    2. The problem I have with reports about waste like that is that it is always presented as “look at how stupid this research was”, rather than questioning why government should be funding as much research and academic stuff as it does. For all I know, there is valuable scientific knowledge to be gained from rabbit massage and treadmills for shrimp.

      It gives cover to people who want to claim to be fiscally conservative but don’t have the balls (or desire) to actually cut anything that is a significant part of the budget.

      1. Point noted.

        “Mothers have the same reaction when looking at photos of their dogs as they do to those of their own kids, according to recent government-funded research published this year. Two of the scientists performing the study received a combined total of $371,026 from the National Institutes of Health this year, money intended for work in addiction research.”

      2. I think a lot of that is political. Sea monkey dancing is easy to make fun of, but lots of research funding is very popular with the public. But I also suspect that most politicians aren’t hardliners on this, even when the cameras aren’t rolling. Broadly speaking, the ROI on basic research is good.

        1. And honestly, research funding is probably one of the less objectionable places where government wastes money. But if they are going to be doing it at all, there is going to be some dumb stuff funded. Sure, it’s good to point out the truly ridiculous stuff, but it’s just a distraction from any serious discussion about reducing government spending.

          1. Agreed. But I directly benefit from government-funded research, so I’m a bit biased.

            1. I do as well, I must admit.

              1. Everybody’s gotta eat. The question is, how well do you put that stolen money to use, and if given the choice, would you continue to steal it?

                1. Well, I eat.

                  I’m kind of at the “fuck it, I’ll take what I can get” stage.

        2. ROI? Bullshit. If there was good ROI on it, Pfizer, Honeywell, or somebody would be doing the research, securing the patents and paying lobbyists to keep the government away.

          1. Well it is possible that a positive ROI would only be seen without the costs of compliance imposed by the government.

            This should cause cognitive dissonance in advocates of “government funding for science” but that largely remains to be seen.

            1. I’m not really sure how you both profit off a discovery and share it openly with the rest of the community. I really do think the latter is crucial to advancing science. A private patronage model would probably work best, IMO.

              1. Patents only last 20 years. We could argue about the terms being shorter, but the average person will live much longer than a patent.

                And, of course, just because you hold a patent doesn’t mean you have to use it offensively. Unlike a trademark, you can obtain a patent then never sue anyone and still have claim to it.

              2. I’m not really sure how you both profit off a discovery and share it openly with the rest of the community.

                Classically, researchers will publish their “basic” research findings and make their profits from their application of that research via usable products/services.

          2. Not necessarily. Those companies would have to be able to recoup that investment directly. In practice, the benefits are usually spread out throughout the economy. ROI may not be the correct technical term to use in that case.

            That’s not to say that you couldn’t change patent law and culture in such a way that there would be greater incentive to privately fund basic research. Maybe you could. Nor am I saying that economic benefits are justification from a libertarian perspective. They aren’t.

            1. Those companies would have to be able to recoup that investment directly. In practice, the benefits are usually spread out throughout the economy.

              This makes no sense. It smacks of MBA thinking. “If we can’t turn a ginormous P/E off it, we’re not making any money!”

              If something has an economic benefit, then you can slap a price on it and sell it. The only problem is overhead costs, and those costs are skewed ridiculously high by the government.

        3. I’m not sure if I could love a human child as much as I love my dog…

          1. I’m guessing you don’t have any children of your own.

            1. Either that or you aren’t human, which would explain why you specified “human child”.

      3. rather than questioning why government should be funding as much research and academic stuff as it does

        *gasp*

        Because if government doesn’t, who will? Be specific! And don’t say the corporations, because they only do research for profit! Some things are important and need to be research, but there’s no profit in it! So government must pay for it, or no one will!

        It gives cover to people who want to claim to be fiscally conservative but don’t have the balls (or desire) to actually cut anything that is a significant part of the budget.

        /sarc off

        Sadly, I believe you are correct. Any cuts that would significantly help the budget are political suicide. Politicians who put people out of work or stop sending people a check generally are not reelected. Since getting reelected is job number one, cutting spending is a number two.

    3. Poor bunnies. 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

  12. Speaking of duplicate spending, just about every discussion about the Ebola Czar is the fact that we already have an Ebola Czar:

    http://thefederalist.com/2014/…..re-is-she/

  13. http://www.foxnews.com/science…..a-reveals/

    The DNA from the 45,000-year-old bone of a man from Siberia is helping to pinpoint when modern humans and Neanderthals first interbred, researchers say.

    Life before yes-means-yes.

    1. PATRIARCHY!!!!

    2. Not that I would ever excuse any non-sconsensual sex among modern humans, but it does seem to be true that rape (or at least what would be called rape among people) is the predominant mating strategy in nature.

      1. “She was in *heat*! She was *asking* for it!”

        1. My German shepherd dog is about to go into heat again. It isn’t pretty.

      2. Hell, I’ve known that since before high school. Have you evern seen ducks? It’s a bit disturbing.

        1. There are indeed some truly remarkable facts about duck sex.

          1. I think you spelled “terrifying” wrong.

        2. Walking to a class in college, I ran across a duck rape orgy. It was… disturbing.

        3. Horses may be the worst.

          1. Zebras – when a new male takes over a harem, he rapes them hard enough to cause miscarriages.

        4. Some squirrels had a gang bang in my backyard once.

          1. Was your backyard sore afterwards?

            1. oh snap. actually the female squirrel ended the afternoon draped over a large limb, with her rump against the trunk of a 100 year old white oak. the males were still scrambling around, but clearly the party was over.

      3. non-sconsensual

        What do you have against the differently sconsed, Zeb?

        1. Sex with the lights off is an abomination.

      4. that rape (or at least what would be called rape among people) is the predominant mating strategy in nature.

        +2 raccoons in my front yard.

  14. Give me the budget and a high-energy laser, and I’ll cut the fuck out of spending. Few will fail to gnash their teeth and scratch their scalps until the blood flows freely after I’m done. “What? But what about the children/terrorists/people who need bribing/identity class of choice?”

  15. Why not spend the money ? If the federal government can spend 3.7 trillion when it takes in 2.7 trillion in taxes, then any connection between spending and ability to pay is meaningless. Some wag recently suggested cutting taxes to zero. If the spending is completely unmoored from the revenue, then why pretend…just let people keep their money and spend the 3.7 trillion anyway.

    1. Exactly. Or, better yet, go whole hog and use infinite debt to finance our every possible want, need, and desire.

    2. If the spending is completely unmoored from the revenue, then why pretend…just let people keep their money and spend the 3.7 trillion anyway.

      Because one of the government’s central missions is to confiscate from those who have more.

      Sure, the government could still do everything else it does, but the rich would still be getting richer. That by itself violates the Prime Directive.

      1. “Because one of the government’s central missions is to confiscate from those who have more.”

        Obama admitted this once, when his teleprompter wasn’t around.

    3. Why not, then we could just payoff the debt with a magic coin*.

      *Magic coin not redeemable for actual dollars.

  16. OT: Liverpool getting slapped around by RM.

  17. Wastebook

    Doesn’t that just redirect to Whitehouse.gov?

    1. Hey! Don’t forget about us!

      /Congress

    1. Of course you would get an evil professor like that a for-profit college.

    2. Also, -1 for not linking to a Humpday gallery.

      1. FLBP all the way, you heathen!

    3. That definitely didn’t really happen.

      “Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right”

      Unless there were only two people in the class, or every other desk faced the wrong way, pairing off doesn’t work that way.

      Though I’m guessing that the whole site is satire.

  18. Of course, it would be interesting to review Sen Coburn’s earmarks, wouldn’t it?

    I am sure there is no waste there.

    1. It’s not wasted if it gets him reelected.

  19. The Pentagon destroying $6 billion worth of unneeded ammunition: $1 billion.

    I would have offered to “destroy” their 9mm parabellum. And any .45 acp they might have had lying around.

    1. .45 ACP they’ve run out of before.

      Around 1980 my yearly pistol qual as a member of my ship’s nuclear weapons security reserve force (we had Jarheads for primary security force) was to fire five .45 blanks over the fantail.

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