Never mind the $15 trillion national debt; the government blew $592,000 on a study last year to figure out why chimpanzees throw poop.
That's just one example of government waste described in a recent book by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. His "Wastebook 2011" features 100 examples of needless or ill-advised government spending.
It adds up to $6.9 billion that America can't afford. And while such waste is just a fraction of the federal government's $3.8 trillion budget, a country that needs to borrow 36 cents of every dollar it spends should not be throwing money away on non-essential research.
Like why chimps throw poop.
Here are 17 other things the government wasted tax dollars on last year:
17 Ways Government Wastes Your Money
- Exporting Elmo: The U.S. Agency for International Development provided $10 million to a Pakistani arts organization to adapt "Sesame Street" for Pakistani toddlers. The money will also help pay for the creation of 130 episodes of the show.
- Dragon Robots for Preschoolers: The National Science Foundation spent $131,000 on robot dragons designed to mimic human responses to help teach preschoolers language skills. Apparently interaction with real humans was deemed inadequate.
- Virtual Mummies: Thanks to a $25,000 federal grant, visitors to the Milwaukee Public Museum will now be able to experience a "3-D high-definition, full-color true holographic or holographic-like exhibit of a virtual mummy unwrapping."
- Dead Man's Party: Those who complain federal employment benefits are already too generous won't be pleased to learn that many government workers keep receiving payments long after they've died. The Inspector General for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management says "the amount of post-death improper payments is consistently $100-$150 million annually, totaling over $601 million in the last five years."
- Cowboy Poetry: It's hard to recall John Wayne reciting verse in any of the many Westerns he made, but cowboy poetry is a big enough phenomenon to have its own annual celebration. And this year taxpayers helped pay for it courtesy of a $50,000 contribution from the U.S. government.
- Promiscuous Quail: The National Institute of Health gave the University of Kentucky $176,000 to determine if Japanese quail are more likely to have sex when high on cocaine. The study is scheduled to last through 2015.
- Happiness is … Social Media: Another National Science Foundation grant for $198,000 paid for a University of California-Riverside study of "motivations, expectations and goal pursuit in social media." Among the questions the study seeks to answer: "Do unhappy people spend more time on Twitter or Facebook?"
- Guilty Pleasure: The federal government gave the Hawaii Department of Agriculture $50,000 to help pay for the 2nd Annual Hawaiian Chocolate Festival. The goal is to "highlight the culinary talents and products specifically linked to Hawaii's chocolate industry."
- O Christmas Tree: The U.S. government spent $74,000 last year to help the state of Michigan "increase awareness about the role Michigan plays in the production of trees and poinsettias." Michigan's $40 million Christmas tree industry already ranks third in the nation.
- High on Pizza: A private company was given $484,000 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a Mellow Mushroom pizzeria in Arlington, TX. Mellow Mushroom is a national chain known for its use of hippie and drug themes.
- Tips for India: The National Science Foundation wants to help politicians in India do a better job. So it is awarded a $426,000 grant for research to determine the effectiveness of communications to citizens from officeholders. The U.S. sent $126 million in aid to India last year, even though it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
- Art for Italians: The State Department contributed $350,000 for the United States to be part of the 54th International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy. No word on how much the exhibit enhanced U.S. international relations.
- Jobs for Barbados: The mixed success the government has had creating jobs here in America did not discourage the U.S. Agency for International Development from spending $1.35 million on an "entrepreneurship initiative" for the Caribbean island nation of Barbados. The U.S. unemployment rate has been over 8% for three years.
- Video Game Powerups: A video game promotional organization in Massachusetts landed $100,000 to help developers create intellectual property and help businesses get access to capital. Video game development is a $2 billion industry in Massachusetts.
- What Were They Smoking: The Virginia Commonwealth University received $55,000 in 2011 (part of a larger $170,000 grant) to study changes in the hookah smoking habits of students in the nation of Jordan. Among other things, the study sought to answer the question: "How many Jordanian students believe that water pipe tobacco smoking is more harmful than cigarettes smoking?" (Answer: 62.2 percent).
- Chinese Puzzle: The Chinese economy is second only to that of the United States. And China holds billions of dollars in U.S. debt. So the U.S. government sent $17.8 million in aid to China last year to improve the Asian giant's social services and clean up its environment. That makes sense, right?
- Do You Believe in Magic: Did you know there is an American Museum of Magic in Marshall, MI? Well, the magic museum made $147,000 of your tax dollars disappear last year. The purpose of the federal largesse was to help the museum "better understand its various audiences and their potential interest in the history of magic entertainment."
By the way, the researchers studying why chimps throw poop have theorized that it's a form of communication. Maybe they're trying to send a message to Washington.
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- Sen. Tom Coburn:
Wastebook 2011 (PDF)
About the Author
David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.