In an homage to former Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) commitment to bringing attention to wasteful programs through his annual Wastebook and similar to freshman Rep. Steve Russell's (R-OK) Wastebook Watch No. 1, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently published America's Most Wasted, a catalog of what the Senator calls "questionable Washington spending habits." Senator McCain identifies at least $1.1 billion in waste and at least another $294 billion spent on programs that are no longer authorized to receive funding.
As Senator McCain explained:
Today I am releasing a report titled America’s Most Wasted, which continues the remarkable work that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn did for years with his annual Wastebook by highlighting, naming and shaming outrageous pork projects funded with your taxpayer dollars. This is just the first in a series of reports I will release this year, which will also spotlight wasteful spending at the Pentagon that I am committed to fighting as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Some of the spending highlighted in his report are:
- Spending on programs whose authorization is expired ($294 billion): In order to receive appropriations, most programs are expected to be authorized. Senator McCain highlighted an annual CBO report that found $294 billion worth of appropriations in FY 2015 whose authorization had expired. Many of these programs are clearly necessary, but the report argued that this demonstrated a lack of oversight on the part of Congress. The good news is that this number is slightly down from over $300 billion in such programs in FY 2014.
- Social Security Overpayments ($225.3 million): Between 2007 and 2013, the SSA overpayed hundreds of millions of dollars to students with a parent who was deceased, retired or disabled. Social Security provides these benefits until a student either graduates high school or turns 19, but the agency says it failed to identify when students either graduated or dropped out of high school.
- A (second) catfish inspection agency ($14 million): The Department of Agriculture has already spent $20 million developing a agency to inspect imported catfish, and expects it will take another $14 million to maintain the agency. But the Food and Drug Administration already inspects imported catfish, and has never found a consistent problem with unsafe catfish. Both the Government Accountability Office and Office of Management and Budget have called the USDA program duplicative and wasteful.
- National Guard spending for advertising at professional sporting events ($49 million): To advertise for recruitment, the National Guard has spent a combined $44.9 million endorsing just two drivers, NASCAR driver Dale Earnheart, Jr. and the Indy Racing League's Graham Rahal. They also spent an additional $4.2 million recruiting everywhere from NFL games to the Alaskan Iron Dog snowmobile race. The National Guard says that there is high return on investment for these advertisements but has never published proof. This comes as the Guard faces a $101 million shortfall in its fund to pay Servicemembers, which it has covered by postponing trainings.
- Building a dog bite prevention website ($390,798): The NIH has given two grants to develop a website to teach kids how to be safe around dogs. McCain feels that this website is unnecessary, especially given that the NIH plans to "build from existing dog-bite prevention websites" like these private sector alternatives that already exist.
- Bomb-Sniffing Elephants ($50,000): The Army spent a year testing whether elephants are more effective than dogs at detecting land mines. Army Chief Scientist Stephen Lee called the results "inconclusive". As Senator McCain explains, it is unlikely that elephants would ever be used on the front lines, given that they are a threatened species and their "large size."
Although these kinds of projects will not make the kind of deficit impact that meaningful tax and entitlement reform would, it is important that lawmakers continually review programs so that every dollar is spent in an efficient, useful manner. It will make the federal government more effective and could make it marginally easier to live within the spending caps.