Government Spending

Here's How the Government Is Wasting Your Tax Dollars

Manure marketing, golf course renovations, a DEA museum, and other wastes of public money.


You think the federal government wastes money? You don't know the half of it. During the past year alone, Washington has shelled out billions to give bureaucrats paid vacations in lieu of discipline; to ship coal to Germany for no reason; to design better golf clubs; and to give bunny rabbits massages — among many other things.

According to received wisdom, Americans ought to be clear about three things: (1) You can't balance the federal budget by targeting waste, fraud and abuse. (2) The spending cuts imposed by sequestration have been devastating. (3) We might have an Ebola vaccine by now if federal agencies had received adequate funding.

Each of these propositions contains some truth. No amount of pork-trimming can offset the huge outlays for entitlements, which (along with interest on the debt) will soon consume every dollar Washington collects. Sequestration's cuts do indeed apply equally to crucial government outlays, such as military flight training, as well as foolish ones. And while there's no guarantee more spending would have produced an Ebola vaccine by now, there's no guarantee it wouldn't, either.

But arguments like those offer cold comfort when you page through the latest issue of Sen. Tom Coburn's Wastebook, which relates just some of the myriad ways the federal government squanders your hard-earned pay.

It begins by noting that many federal workers are placed on paid administrative leave for offenses that, in the private sector, would result in summary dismissal. Such as? Such as buying liquor with government charge cards, watching porn at work or not doing their jobs. At the Department of Homeland Security, 237 employees were put on paid leave for more than 10 days this past year — more than 200 of them for misconduct.

Last year DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the sequester would put "our nation at risk" by "significantly negatively affecting . . . operations." (That's bureaucrat-speak for harming them.) Yet this year, DHS was able to find enough change in the seat cushions to pay for night-vision goggles, a robot and chemical suits for Ithaca, N.Y. — which already boasts the distinction of being named one of America's safest small towns by Farmers Insurance.

The House Armed Services Committee has warned that sequestration "put our military and national security at risk." But Congress can be only so alarmed — given that it continues forcing the Air Force to heat military bases in Germany with anthracite coal mined in Pennsylvania. The Defense Department has pleaded to no avail "to end this earmark because it wasted hundreds of millions of dollars annually," the Wastebook reports.

The litany of lunacy runs on and on, and includes expenditures such as. . .

  • $5 million from the FAA to renovate a city golf course in Sioux Falls, S.D.;
  • $371,000 for fMRI scans to test whether mothers love dogs as much as kids;
  • $41 billion on a missile defense system with a 70 percent failure rate;
  • $95,000 for a museum celebrating the Drug Enforcement Agency;
  • $1.25 million for a Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Miss.;
  • $77 million so the Postal Service can ship pallets of soda and other supplies to remote Alaskan villages;
  • $16 million from the Department of Transportation to keep a crumbling mall in Fresno, Calif., on life support;
  • $1 billion by the Pentagon to destroy $16 billion worth of ammunition it no longer wants;
  • $3.5 million from HUD to build water-themed playgrounds in New Jersey, Alabama and elsewhere;
  • $2 million for a sheep research station the Department of Agriculture wanted to shut down (Congress said no);
  • $45,000 by NASA for experiments on the International Space Station that "will examine a variety of coatings and metals used in golf products"; and
  • $50,000 from the USDA to help Alpaca farmers market Alpaca manure, aka the "perfect poop."

A special word ought to be said about the National Science Foundation, which seems to have a fetish for funding ridiculous research projects, to the tune of . . .

  • $307,000 to study the micro-turbulence stirred up by the swimming of brine shrimp, a.k.a. Sea Monkeys;
  • $331,000 to discover that — surprise! — "hungry people are cranky and aggressive";
  • $171,000 teaching monkeys to play video games to prove that monkeys, like people, wrongly believe in winning and losing streaks; and
  • $856,000 to teach mountain lions to run on a treadmill, to better analyze their caloric consumption rates.

Then there's the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an arm of the National Institutes of Health. In the past two years, it has spent $387,000 on a study testing the effects of Swedish massage on the muscle recovery of rabbits that had recently been exercised.

That should come in real handy in the fight against Ebola.

NEXT: Obama and Dems Rebuked by Electorate on Climate and Energy Policy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. OT, but did anyone see exit polling from VA? I’m curious to see if Sarvis tipped the election one way or the other, given how close it ended up being.

    1. It’s close. But the lesson the Republicans should take is had they run a libertarian leaning candidate, they would have won.

      1. Maybe Sarvis can run as a Republican next time and win. I mean, this has worked for others in the past.

        1. I saw him talk at UVA. He was pretty clear about not wanting to run again. Also, he ran as a Republican once (I think for state legislator). He cited it as a reason for NOT running as a Republican again.

          @Scruffy: Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the Republicans would have won with a libertarian-leaning candidate. They may have got the 2% libertarian vote, but would more than that simply have stayed home? I don’t know.

          I do know that when I was volunteering at the polls yesterday, both of the Republican volunteers identified themselves as libertarian leaning, and so did one Democrat volunteer. But they didn’t vote for Sarvis because they were too afraid the other team would win, even in the case of the red 5th district race between Hurt and Gaughan, which was never in dougbt. Yet the Independent Green candidate got more than half as many votes as the LP candidate. Supposedly, the IG candidate was talking about chemtrails and aliens. Not the Mexican kind. Sort of frustrating.

          1. OK, so maybe that’s the lesson I want them to take from it.

            1. It may still be, but I think it depends on the details, and whether anyone is able to/wants to look into it. If Sarvis had received, say, 5% or more, the incentive would be higher. But Sarvis received a little over 50,000 votes. Would 50,000 conservatives who did come out have stayed home if the Republican candidate was in the libertarian camp? I suspect the answer is “no”, as Gillespie doesn’t strike me as having really mobilized the social conservatives that might be turned off by a libertarian message. But that is the sort of calculus the Republicans will do.

              FWIW, one of the narratives that seems to be emerging is that the Republicans were successful with handpicked, mainstream candidates (like Gardner in CO), and that this validates a move away from insurgent Tea Party types. I think it is idiotic to read too much into one election, but that probably won’t stop the pundits and strategists from doing just that.

    2. I thought H&R had a post last nite saying he pulled from the left and right fairly equally.

  2. Sequestration’s cuts do indeed apply equally to crucial government outlays, such as military flight training, as well as foolish ones. And while there’s no guarantee more spending would have produced an Ebola vaccine by now, there’s no guarantee it wouldn’t, either.

    I like Hinkle, but he’s being too generous here. There is plenty of foolish military spending, and sequestration doesn’t prevent budgeters from cutting the foolish programs to save the necessary ones. Same things goes for the CDC and infectious disease. Sequestration isn’t the reason some useful and even legitimate programs are suffering. That is thanks to the people in charge choosing to protect the useless and illegitimate programs.

    1. This. Sequestration was designed to create the maximum PR while cutting the least amount of money possible.

    2. If you still want a “none of the above” on the ballot, Lynch Pin, just change your name to Noneof The Above and see how many votes you get.

      1. Howza bout this for a ballot name??? (In my wonderful state of Florida, of course)

        U.S. Representative, District 3 Florida

        Ted Yoho (R)148,483 votes65%
        Marihelen Wheeler (D)73,695 votes32%
        Howard Term Limits Lawson (I)6,187 votes3%
        Precincts Reporting: 235 out of 235 (100%)

      2. This is brilliant.

  3. Governments waste money? What?! How long has this been going on?

    1. If it buys even one single vote, it’s not a waste.

  4. How doesn’t government waste money? Heck, huge chunks of it are spent just to reward cronies and voters. It’s not like it serves any useful purpose, this mass theft.

    1. It will continue until the people put a stop to it.

  5. The cupboard is bare.

  6. My answer to the dolts who make the “You can’t balance the budget by targeting pork” argument is “No, but you can look for pork as a sign that the government gets too much revenue. If the Congresscritters aren’t raiding this kind of bilge to pay for more important stuff, then we are justified in telling them to take any proposed raise in taxes and jam it sideways.”

    1. I draw an analogy to dieting. If you are morbidly obese, you probably need to take more dramatic steps than cutting out that extra candy bar in the afternoon. But if you can’t even cut out the afternoon candy bar, you have little hope of being able to reign in your weight problem.

  7. $95,000 for a museum celebrating the Drug Enforcement Agency

    I particularly liked the “Flash Grenade in a Baby’s Crib” exhibit, but the “3 am warrant serving for possession” one was to die for.

    1. The Sinaloa cartel runs a great food concession there, too. Awesome tacos.

      1. Yeah but don’t ask for extras on it, they cost a fortune and I’m sure that’s not actually basil.

  8. We will cut through the budget line by line and cut programs that don’t work and make others work better. -Barack Obama

  9. Nice list, but you left off EPA, Department of Education, and the TSA. That’s just off the top of my head. There must be more.

  10. “$50,000 from the USDA to help Alpaca farmers market Alpaca manure, aka the “perfect poop.”
    They tried to sell it to the new legal marijuana growers and both parties told the other it was the best shit.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.