With a national debt of $18.4 trillion, you'd think that tracking down and eliminating wasteful government spending would be more of a U.S. priority.
But although Sen. Coburn retired in January due to health reasons, two of his Congressional colleagues have picked up his battle flag. Rep. Steve Russell, R-OK, a Congressman elected to his first term in 2014, has published two editions of his "Waste Watch" so far this year.
Veteran Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has vowed to do the same and so far has put out one edition of his "America's Most Wasted."
Both lawmakers say they aim to carry on Coburn's goal of bringing attention to ridiculous examples of wasteful government spending in the hope of stopping it, or at least reducing it.
"At a time when Americans' disapproval of government is at an all-time high, it has never been more important to reign-in spending and put our fiscal house back in order," McCain wrote in his May report.
Here are a few of the most embarrassing instances of wasteful government spending uncovered by Russell and McCain so far this year:
11 Hard-to-Stomach Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
- Bomb-Sniffing Elephants: Army scientists had heard that African elephants in Angola had the ability to evade mines left over from years of war in that country. So the Army Research Development & Engineering Command gave a research facility in South Africa $50,000 to study whether elephants could be used in combat areas to detect explosives. It seems like we already have plenty of dogs to handle that job. And elephants are hardly the ideal animal to take into a war zone. Not only are they enormous, but they're listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
We're only just getting started. Would you believe the U.S. military spent nearly half a million dollars on walls that melted in the rain? Read on...
- Taxpayer Dollars Melt Away: Back in 2012, the United States paid an Afghan contractor $456,669 to build a firing range to serve as a training facility for the Afghan Special Police. Just four months later, the brick walls began to crumble. The Afghan builders had skimped on the clay in the bricks, which were made mostly of sand. The contractor was asked to fix the damage, but it was hopeless. Last year, the training facility was completely torn down, and reconstruction begun. The U.S. got no compensation from the Afghan contractor - which remains on the list of contractors eligible to do work for the United States.[mmpazkzone name="in-story" network="9794" site="307044" id="137008" type="4"]
- Never Mind: Starting in 2011, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs spent $564 million to develop a joint electronic health records system. Two years later, they simply gave up. Now both agencies are spending millions more on separate systems that may or may not be able to communicate with each other - the main reason for the joint venture.
- A Bailout for the Afghan Government: Concerned that the Afghan government would not be able to pay its civil servants, police, and soldiers, the United States wrote a generous check for $100 million. Meanwhile, the U.S. federal budget for 2015 is about $426 billion in the hole. And if you're giving money away, why not start at home? About 30 states are currently struggling with major budget shortfalls.
- Catfish Double Take: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in charge of inspecting catfish. So why has the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $20 million setting up a duplicative catfish inspection office that will cost $14 million annually to run? U.S. catfish farmers convinced their lawmakers to support it in the hope that excessive regulation will force imported catfish off the market. Both the General Accountability Office and Office of Management and Budget have recommended the USDA Catfish Inspection Office be eliminated.
- Jerry Jones Is Jealous: In the late 1990s, the VA made plans to build a 10-building state-of-the-art medical campus in Aurora, Colo., for $328 million. The project, which broke ground in 2010 and is still under construction, is now expected to cost $1.73 billion - $10 million per bed. AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the most expensive facility in the NFL, cost $1.2 billion. In June, the Senate voted to prohibit the VA from managing any construction project over $100 million.
- Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Dog bites are a big problem in the United States. About 4.5 million happen every year. But anyone seeking dog bite prevention information has plenty of options. Apparently that wasn't good enough for the American Medical Veterinary Association, which gave $391,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to develop a new website to teach parents and children how to avoid dog bites. Of course, the researchers plan to use existing dog bite prevention programs to build the site.
- Red Alert: Debate over whether the government should fund the arts has raged for years. But some groups shouldn't get taxpayer money regardless. Like the San Francisco Mime Troupe. This group has received $100,000 over the past six years to help finance shows that promote socialist and, in some cases, Communist ideals.
- They Let Their Guard Down: As part of a questionable marketing strategy, the Army National Guard spent $49 million on sponsorships for racecar drivers and sports franchises in 2014. The Guard spent $32.2 million to sponsor NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and $4.2 million on deals with the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer, among others. The worst part? At the time, the National Guard had a $101 million shortfall in the account it uses to pay guardsmen.
- This Is Just Sinful: An audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General in 2014 found that DOD employees had spent more than $1 million of taxpayer money at casinos and gentlemen's clubs in the previous year. They used their Government Travel Charge Cards, intended for employees to cover legitimate travel-related business expenses. Were it not for the audit, the violations would have gone undetected.
- Social Security Discovers Life After Death: According to Social Security records, 6.5 million Americans are at least 112 years old, with some much older. This is an astonishing development, since only 35 people in human history are known to have reached the age of 112. The problem is that scammers can use the Social Security numbers of the dead for all sorts of fraud. Sen. Coburn estimated in 2010 that the government had sent $1 billion to the dead over the previous 10 years. And yet in the five years since, the Social Security Administration has taken no action to update its Master Death List.
Follow me on Twitter @DavidGZeiler.
More Wasteful Government Spending: Here at Money Morning, we hate wasteful government spending, so we've made a point to publicize Sen. Coburn's Wastebook every year. Many of the transgressions reported then are still going on. If you think you can control your blood pressure, here are several previous installments:
- "The Book Washington Doesn't Want You to Read" (2014)
- Who Spends $1 Million on a Bus Stop?
- 2012's Most Outrageous Examples of Wasteful Government Spending
- Why Chimps Throw Poop... And 17 Other Questions Tax Dollars Paid to Answer (2011)
- John McCain Website: America's Most Wasted
- Steve Russell Website: Waste Watch No. 1
- Steve Russell Website: Waste Watch No. 2
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.