You've never seen government cheese like this before.
The federal government spent $22 million last year on a local development grant used, in part, to subsidize the production of Sjenica cheese—a creamy white cheese produced only in the rural highlands of southwest Serbia—with the goal of raising production standards so the cheese can be sold in the European Union and the United States. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says the project will help standardize Sjenica cheese production by teaching farmers in the region about the problems created by "questionable practices…such as adding water or baking powder to the milk or skimming the fat."
Professionalizing Serbian cheese production might be a boon to local farmers by opening up export markets for their product, but it's difficult to imagine why American taxpayer dollars should be directed towards that end. That's why the item ended up in the latest edition of Sen. Rand Paul's (R–Ky.) "Waste Report," released Monday.
As Paul's office points out in the report, American taxpayers and dairy farmers have another good reason to be cheesed off about the questionable spending. Right now, America is experiencing something of a cheese crisis. According to the Department of Agriculture, the United States is sitting on 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus—largely due to an increase in dairy production and a decline in consumption of milk and cheese. The federal government has been buying up excess cheese to bail out dairy farmers—at the same time it is using tax dollars to boost production in the Balkans.
Unfortunately, that's not the only comical way that the federal government wasted money this year.
Also earning scorn in Paul's report is the State Department's decision to buy an $84,000 statue from Bob Dylan—yes, that Bob Dylan—for the U.S. embassy in Mozambique. (Dylanistas may recall that "Mozambique" is a goofy track from his 1975 album Desire.)
But the real problem isn't the weird homage to Dylan. It's the fact that every new U.S. embassy or consulate includes an automatic budget of 0.5 percent of the construction cost for art acquisition—no matter how much that 0.5 percent might be in actual dollars, Paul's report notes—as a way to spread American "soft power" around the globe.
The most outlandish case of wasteful spending included in the new report recalls previous National Institutes of Health (NIH) outrages like the infamous give-cocaine-to-Japanese-quails study, or the study of dangerous behavior at dance clubs.
This time around, the NIH spent $708,000 on a study that got zebrafish addicted to nicotine. The study, conducted in London, examined the link between genetics and addiction. And while that sort of research can certainly have its benefits, it's still pretty unclear why American taxpayers should be paying for it.
"Spending fewer than a million dollars may seem like a 'drop in the bucket' compared to the hundreds of millions and billions the federal government routinely dishes out," Paul's report notes, "but it all adds up to the massive budget deficits and $23 trillion national debt before us today."