One would think it nearly impossible to spend $1 million on a lowly bus stop, but with government anything is possible - no matter how absurd.
The extravagant bus stop is just one example of wasteful government spending detailed in the 2013 edition of the "Wastebook," compiled annually by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK.
Coburn's team found $30 billion worth of wasteful government spending this year. While less than 1% of the total $3.8 trillion federal budget, what Congress chooses to fund in the face of massive budget deficits and a $17 trillion debt shows just how lousy they are at prioritizing how taxpayer dollars are spent.
"There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps," Coburn said. "What's lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices - and passage of fiscally responsible spending bills - possible."
13 Crazy Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
Out of all 100 examples of wasteful government spending this group of 13 really stood out to us:
- What's Love Got to Do With It: The National Endowment of the Humanities has given $914,000 to something called "The Popular Romance Project," the goal of which is to study romance in popular culture and reverse the notion that such works aren't "serious." Among the projects planned is a documentary entitled "Love Between the Covers."
- Tax Breaks for Prostitutes: In Nevada, where prostitution remains legal in 10 counties, the brothels are allowed to use standard business exemptions. That results in $17.5 million in tax breaks annually. Legal deductions include the salaries of the prostitutes and "the cost of promotion." The workers themselves can deduct breast implants, costumes, and the "cost of equipment."
- Ever Heard of the Internet?: The ironically named National Technical Information Service (NTIS) charges other government agencies $50 million a year for paper copies of reports and documents that are freely available on the Internet. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has suggested several times over the past decade that NTIS had been rendered obsolete. Yet this zombie agency lumbers on.
- That's What Satellites Are For: In 2009 the U.S. Army commissioned the design and construction of a "Mega-Blimp," an airship the size of a football field that was to provide surveillance of Afghan battlefields. More than three years and $297 million later, the war in Afghanistan was winding down. So in 2013 the Army sold the never-used blimp back to the company that built it for just $301,000.
- You Still Can't Park There: A parking garage project in Maryland's Montgomery County that was started in 1997 - 16 years ago - has so far run up a tab of $112 million (Congress pitched in $50 million) and still isn't open to the public that paid for it. By comparison, Maryland's 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an engineering marvel, finished in 1952, took 3.5 years to build at a cost of $273 million in 1997 dollars.
- Best Job Ever: As it continues to contemplate a mission to Mars, NASA launched a $360,000 program to study the effects of such a long trip by paying 20 people $18,000 each to do nothing but lie in bed for 70 days. The subjects are required to stay in the bed 24 hours a day for the duration of the test, but can watch TV, play games or engage in just about any other supine activity that suits their fancy. "A few people take a liking to the study and come back for more," one of the scientists in charge reported.
- It's Enough to Make Bullwinkle Blush: To commemorate the holiday season, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $10,000 grant for the production of a touring show entitled, "Mooseltoe: A New Moosical." Characters include three snobby penguins, a mobster snowman, and a fat walrus.
- Try Not to Be So Moody: The National Institutes for Health spent $325,525 to study 82 married couples, and that found that "the happiest were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly during marital conflict." Husbands, however, are advised not to bring up this study in the heat of an argument with their wives.
- And It Doesn't Even Keep You Dry: Virginia's Arlington County spent $1 million on a high-tech bus stop complete with heated benches and sidewalks, Wi-fi, and dramatic etched glass. But for all of its luxuries, the slanted roof and minimal walls of this "SuperStop" provide little shelter from the wind and rain. And the county wants to build 23 more. Congress has contributed $8 million to this insanity, of which $1.5 million has already been spent.
- The Wine Is on Us: The Department of Agriculture, thinking it will create a new market for California wine in Asia, spent $415,000 on two programs intended to train "wine educators who will then deliver the classes across China." The grant is the first of what Agriculture says is "an expected three-year undertaking."
- We'll Leave the Lights On... Forever: "Turn off the lights when you leave a room!" is a mantra we've all heard. Don't tell it to the government, though, which spends more than $1.5 billion every year maintaining unused buildings. Some of these buildings are maintained despite being slated for demolition.
- Kermit Wasn't Available: The National Endowment of the Humanities dropped $150,000 on something called the "Puppets Take Long Island festival." The eight-week program is intended to "raise awareness of Long Island as a destination offering high-quality performing arts for families."
- Never Assume: Using a National Science Foundation grant, a Yale University law professor set out to show that people with a right-wing ideology would score lower on a cognitive reasoning test than those holding a left-wing ideology. In addition to being a waste of taxpayer money, the study instead showed the exact opposite. The professor reported that he found the results "puzzling."
And it gets worse...
Wasteful government spending is just one of many Washington bungles. So far this year Congress has failed to pass the vital Farm Bill, and the deadline of Dec. 31 is fast approaching. If lawmakers don't act, Americans could be paying $8 a gallon for milk in January.
- Money Morning: Why Chimps Throw Poop... And 17 Other Examples of Government Waste
- Office of Sen. Tom Coburn: Wastebook 2013
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.