Government Waste

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


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.