Coburn Publishes Wastebook 2013

For years, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) resisted the temptation to talk in broad generalities about "wasteful government spending" and has instead been willing to call out specific examples. Today, his office has published the fifth edition of his annual Wastebook, detailing 100 examples of what he describes as "wasteful and low-priority spending," totaling almost $30 billion. The Wastebook looks at little-used government programs, unusual research projects funded by government grants, and tax breaks given to companies in order to identify these examples.

As Dr. Coburn explained,

The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in Wastebook 2013 is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement. There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps.  What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices – and passage of fiscally-responsible spending bills – possible.

Some of the spending examples highlighted in his report are:

  • Paid to Do Nothing – At least $400 million: During the government shutdown, many employees whose jobs do not directly preserve life or property were furloughed. However, Congress granted them back pay for hours not worked when the shutdown was lifted. Senator Coburn calculates that there were at least 100,000 employees in this category with an annual salary over $100,000.
  • Uncle Sam Looking for Romance on the Web – $914,000: The Popular Romance Project has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) since 2010 to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.” 
  • Mass Destruction of Weapons – $7 billion As the U.S. war effort in the Middle East winds to a close, the military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment. The military has decided that it will simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home.
  • Let Me Google That for You: National Technical Information Service – $50 million: Established before the Internet, the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) collects government-funded reports and sells them to other federal agencies. However, about three-quarters of the reports are available for free from other public sources.
  • Hurricane Sandy “Emergency” Funds Spent on TV Ads – $65 million: In January 2013, Congress passed a bill to provide $60.4 billion for the areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  However, instead of rushing aid to the people who need it most, state-level officials in New York and New Jersey spent the money on tourism-related TV advertisements.
  • Need Brains!  Fighting Zombies with Pluses and Minuses – $150,000: A grant from NSF went to a company in North Carolina to develop a math learning game based on the zombie apocalypse.

Read the whole Wastebook here. See old versions of the Wastebook here.