With bloated federal budgets pushing the United States deeper and deeper into debt, you'd think Congress finally would be putting a stop to wasteful government spending.
Not a chance.
Despite all the handwringing over the rapidly approaching "fiscal cliff" and a debt exceeding $16 trillion, lawmakers have voted to squander tax money on everything from what astronauts might eat on Mars to mind-numbing musicals about global warming.
Last week Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, released his annual "Wastebook," which spotlights 100 examples of absurdly wasteful government spending from the previous year.
The items on this year's list add up to $18 billion in government waste. While even Coburn admits that's just a tiny fraction of the $3.7 trillion federal budget, it illustrates how carelessly Washington dispenses with taxpayers' hard-earned money.
"Each of the 100 entries highlighted by this report is a direct result of politicians who are preoccupied with running for re-election rather than running the country, which is what they were elected to do in the first place," Coburn said in the report.
Wasteful Government Spending: 13 Mind-Blowing Expenses
Instead of just bickering about wasteful government spending, Congress should get the ball rolling by going after all the low-hanging fruit in the federal budget.
Here are 13 of the most wasteful government spending examples in 2012, and they all but beg for the budget ax:
- Little Green Menus: NASA spends $1 million a year on developing recipes for foods which astronauts could prepare while visiting Mars, even though the agency has no plans to go there any time soon. But just in case NASA changes its mind someday, it wants to ensure that astronauts on Mars don't experience "menu fatigue."
- Why Fruit Flies Fall in Love: The National Institutes of Health spent $939,771 on research that has discovered male fruit flies are more sexually attracted to younger female fruit flies. "Video of the encounter," the scientists wrote, "showed that the male was much more attracted to the young fly."
If you thought those were bad, they get even worse…
- Mood-Enhancing Reruns: The NIH squandered another $666,905 for a study into why people enjoy watching re-runs of old TV shows like Seinfeld. "There is something special and comfortable about a "relationship' in which you already know what the other person is going to say and do," the study's lead investigator wrote.
- No Cartoonist Left Behind: Who can dispute the key role cartoonists play in the American economy? Not the state of Vermont, which is spending $255,000 of a Community Development Block Grant to build the Inky Solomon Center, a program to help out graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies.
- Sweet Deal: Clearly America does not have enough cupcake specialty shops. No surprise, then, that the Small Business Administration ponied up $2 million in loan guarantees for 10 cupcake shops across the country. Should any of the shops taste failure, however, it's the taxpayer that will get burned.
- Gee, Your Fur Smells Terrific: Another business apparently in dire need of taxpayer support is pet toiletries. Or so thought the state of Nebraska, which gave $505,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds to Sergeant's Pet Care Products, Inc. The company will earn about $140 million in revenue this year.
- Fouled Up: Did you know the National Football League is a non-profit organization, just like your favorite charity? Because of a loophole in the tax code, several professional sports leagues — including the NFL, the National Hockey League, and the Professional Golfers' Association — qualify as non-profits, making them eligible for tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks each year.
- Got Caviar?: The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $300,000 this year to promote the purchase of caviar, a $400-an-ounce luxury food few Americans can afford. The program does have an outside chance of succeeding, however — caviar is an eligible item under the federal food stamp program.
- No Road, No Problem: The state of Ohio is spending $520,000 of federal money to repair an unused covered bridge that services no road and actually has "No Trespassing" signs posted on it. The county engineer who applied for the grant explains: "This is money set aside in a transportation bill by senators and congressmen, and if I didn't get it, someone else would."
- Robosquirrel: Researchers at San Diego State University and University of California -Davis spent part of a $325,000 grant to build a robot squirrel to see if they could trick snakes into mistaking it for the real thing. Researchers describe the Robosquirrel as "a taxidermied actual squirrel that is stored with live squirrels so it smells real."
- Nagging Urinals: The Michigan State Police spent $10,000 on 400 urinal deodorant cakes for use in bars and restaurants. But these aren't just any urinal cakes – they talk. When a male approaches, it triggers this message, read in a female voice: "Listen up. That's right! I'm talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many? Then do yourself and everyone else a favor. Call a sober friend or a cab. Oh, and don't forget. Wash your hands."
- It's Just Your Imagination: The National Science Foundation gave Purdue University $350,000 to figure out whether golfers could improve their putting by imagining that the hole is bigger. "[P]erceived increase in target size will boost confidence in one's abilities," the researchers concluded.
- Climate Change – The Musical: The NSF provided another $697,177 to fund the creation of a fact-filled musical about global warming that only Al Gore could love. Entitled "The Great Immensity," the production failed to impress at least one critic: "Many of the songs sounded like a Wikipedia entry set to music," he wrote. "The audience…spent an evening visibly fighting off sleep."
Want more info on where your money is going? Click here to check out last year's most outrageous examples of wasteful government spending.
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- Money Morning:
One of the Decade's Biggest Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
- Money Morning:
Making Earmarks Pay: Lawmakers Help Themselves to Congressional Pork
- Money Morning:
Federal Budget Deficit Climbing Dangerously Higher on Continued 2011 Government Spending
- Sen. Tom Coburn:
Wastebook 2012 (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.