This year's edition - Coburn's fifth and sadly his last as he plans to retire at the end of the current Congressional session - contains $25 billion of the most shocking examples of wasteful government spending.
Coburn says that while the Wastebook accounts for less than 1% of the 2014 federal budget of $3.5 trillion, it makes a larger point.
"The thing is this is not a hard project," Coburn told the Chicago Tribune. "It's pretty easy to find this stuff. I could find you $250 billion, not $25 billion, worth of stupidity."
Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt continues to climb. It's now nearly $17.9 trillion, an increase of nearly $2 trillion just since 2012.
Check out just 13 egregious examples of misused taxpayer dollars from the 2014 Wastebook:
13 Mind-Boggling Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
- What Happens in the Lab, Stays in the Lab: A team of researchers wanted to find out if monkeys share the human belief in winning streaks. So they used a $171,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to come up with a video gambling game the monkeys "would want to play for hours." It's unclear whether the simian subjects were served free drinks. "Luckily, monkeys love to gamble," one researcher said.
- Yeah, That's the Spot: The National Institutes of Health spent $387,000 on a research project in which a group of rabbits got Swedish massages four times a day. The study set out to learn if the massages helped the rabbits recover more quickly after a period of exercise. (They did.) Or the researchers could have just asked any competent athletic trainer.
- Maybe They Can Rent It to Rapunzel: Once upon a time the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decided to build a rocket-testing tower in Mississippi. And then the program it was intended for got canceled. But Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., didn't want to lose the federal money. So he pushed an amendment through Congress to force the construction the $350 million facility. Finished this year, the unused tower now will cost taxpayers $840,000 a year to maintain.
- Tony Stark, Call Your Office: Apparently inspired by the amazing suit of armor in the "Iron Man" film series, the Department of Defense decided to build a real one. It has budgeted $80 million for the project, but so far it's not going well. One researcher complained that Hollywood had imagined a suit "impossibly thin, impossibly light, impossibly agile, and impossibly energy efficient." Another estimated a successful prototype would realistically cost $1 billion.
- There's an App for That: The National Science Foundation (NSF) granted a team of University of Florida researchers $1.97 million to create a "web-based education community that connects people with a shared interested in paleontology." If the idea of an online community for people with shared interests sounds familiar, that's because it already exists, with Facebook. In fact, a Facebook page called the "Fossil Forum" has over 3,300 members. Just an FYI to the UF researchers: You can create a Facebook page for free.
- No Work and All Pay: Unlike private industry, which fires employees for misconduct, the federal government often puts such workers on "administrative leave." That means you still get full pay and benefits while doing no work whatsoever. Some cases of administrative leave go on for months. Some go on for years. This nutty policy costs the federal government $19 million annually.
- Now That's What You Call Energy Inefficient: What does the U.S. Air Force use to heat its bases in Germany? Local energy is the sensible answer. Instead, a federal mandate requires the Air Force to buy anthracite coal mined in the U.S. and ship it to Germany. This costs about $639,000 a year. And it's been going on for more than three decades.
- Tweeting at Terrorists: Some sharp minds at the State Department decided that Twitter could be used as a tool to combat Islamic terrorism. With a $3 million budget, it created a Twitter account with the handle "Think Again Turn Away." Not only is this naive, but the Tweets are often laughable. A sample: "If #ISIS is truly creating this Utopia, why are Syrians so desperate to leave?"
- Winning World War II Took Less Time: Back in 1999, Congress approved a memorial for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be built on the National Mall. It was set to be completed in 2007. And yet construction hasn't even begun. Still, $65 million has somehow been spent over the past 15 years. On top of that, critics have ripped the design. One called it "a scene from Planet of the Apes."
- The More Things Change: Back in the early 1980s, a government investigation discovered the Pentagon had paid $435 for a hammer, $600 for a toilet seat, and $7,000 for a coffee pot. This year the Pentagon paid Bell Helicopter $8,000 for helicopter gears that cost less than $500. Bell also charged $492 for a $52 pin and $296 for a $26 bushing. The excess payments cost taxpayers $9 million.
- If You Give 'Em an Inch: A 2010 study found that Sioux Falls Regional Airport needed some minor repairs on property adjoining a city-owned golf course. Such fixes are typically reimbursed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Only two holes were affected - at first. But with the aid of a crafty golf course architect, the city made the case that the golf course needed a complete $5 million renovation. And the FAA was on the hook for the bill.
- But They're Good for You: Doing no advance research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropped $34 million over five years to teach Afghan farmers how to grow soybeans. There was just one problem. Soybeans are almost impossible to grow in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the crops failed. "Many of these problems could have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided," wrote one U.S. official.
- It's Called "Vaporware": You can't fault the Social Security Administration for wanting to upgrade its system for tracking disability claims. The upgrade was scheduled to be done within two years...back in 2008. Now, in 2014, the SSA says it won't be done for another two-and-a-half years. So far the SSA has spent $288 million on an upgrade that, at this rate, will never happen.
Can you handle more of this? Keep reading...
Still More Wasteful Government Spending
Check our previous years' coverage of Sen. Coburn's Wastebooks:
- The Wastebook 2013: $1 Million for a Bus Stop
- 2012's Most Outrageous Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
- Why Chimps Throw Poop... and 17 Other Examples of Government Waste
Follow me on Twitter @DavidGZeiler.
- Office of Sen. Tom Coburn: The 2014 Wastebook
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.