Year after year, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) refuses to simply give lip service to "wasteful government spending" and has instead called out controversial government spending by name. Today, his office published the fifth annual edition of his Wastebook, detailing 100 examples of what he describes as "stupid spending," totaling almost $25 billion. The Wastebook looks at little-used government programs, unusual research projects funded by government grants, and tax breaks given to companies to compile these examples.
As Senator Coburn explained,
This report, the fifth annual Wastebook, gives a snapshot of just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months with borrowed money and your tax dollars. Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings, raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be been better spent—or not spent at all—were squandered. Then they ask, “but what are you doing about it?”
Some of the spending examples highlighted in his report are:
- Paid vacations for bureaucrats gone wild—$19 million: Many situations that would cause private-sector employers to fire their employees instead results in federal employees going on “administrative leave.” Most of these situations can be described as personnel matters such as criminal investigations, misconduct and security concerns. GAO estimates that the paid leave costs the government about $19 million.
- Pentagon to spend $1 billion to destroy $16 billion in unneeded ammunition—$1 billion: The Pentagon is spending a billion dollars to destroy $16 billion in excessive purchases of military-grade ammunition. The amount of surplus ammunition is now so large that the cost of destroying it will equal the full years’ salary for over 54,000 Army privates. How the military came to purchase so much ammunition it didn’t need was uncovered in a 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation.
- FAA upgrades low traffic airport serving high-end ski resort—$18 million: The Federal Aviation Administration awarded $18 million dollars for a construction project at an airport that serves a ski and golf resort in Idaho. There are on average four daily commercial flights leaving the airport. Construction was to include “comfortable chairs and a fireplace.”
- DOD sends 16 planes to the scrap heap for $32,000—$468 million: After spending over $468 million on a fleet of 20 planes that were supposed to be the backbone of the Afghan Air Force’s air transport mission, the Defense Department scrapped 16 of those planes as opposed to selling or dispatching them for their purpose.
- Watching grass grow—$10,000: The Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spending $10,000 to watch how fast grass grows in Florida after its been pulled out plug by plug and “painstakingly document how fast it returns."
- Spouses stab voodoo dolls more often when “hangry”—$331,000: A National Science Foundation grant provided money to research the phenomenon of being “hangry,” in which a subject is angered because of a lack of food. Spouses with lower levels of blood sugar were more likely to harm the voodoo doll representing their significant other.
With the Debt Doctor announcing his retirement at the end of this year, this is the last Wastebook we can expect to highlight these cases of low-priority spending. Coburn's voice will be missed.