Senator Tom Coburn and his staff have compiled the Wastebook annually for years. This year, they identified an astronomical $25 billion in government waste.
The 110-page report features a long, comprehensive list of frivolous, outrageous, and downright infuriating examples of wasteful government spending, but here are some of the highlights:
1. Watching grass grow – $10,000:
Photo courtesy of Chris Ford
The Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spending $10,000 on the project being conducted in the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas preserve by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
While the grass being observed, saltmarsh cordgrass is “a fast-growing plant,” it can reach a length of 6 inches to as high as 7 feet tall.
2. Swedish massages for rabbits – $387,000:
A group of rabbits received daily rub downs from a “mechanical device that simulates the long, flowing strokes used in Swedish massages.” The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health provided $387,000 for the two year project which ended in April 2014.
3. Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys – $50,000:
Image courtesy of Twitter/The Superhero Method
Cartoon-style ads for pet Sea-Monkeys promise that you can learn to “make them appear to obey your commands, follow a beam of light, do loop-the-loops and even seem to dance when you play” music. The New York Times says it is “sort of true” that Sea Monkeys can be trained, because they do follow light.
With the financial support of three government agencies, researchers put these claims to the test and essentially choreographed a laser guided synchronized swim team of Sea Monkeys as part of a study to measure the swirl created by their collective movements…
4. Interactive climate-change activism game featuring voicemails from the future – $5.2 million:
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Andrea Della Adriano
It’s all funded by the National Science Foundation using a portion of a $5.2 million grant to Columbia University given, in part, to develop an interactive game to spur climate change activism. FutureCoast is a “collaborative game” set in an alternative world where fictional voicemails have been transported back in time – cased in pieces of circular plastic called “chronofacts” – allowing people to listen in on what Earthlings from the future say about the climate.
5. Scientists hope monkey gambling unlocks secrets of free will –$171,000:
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Vlasta Juricek
Humans have long been known to have a “hot-hand bias” in which they believe hot or cold streaks exist where there is actually none. Researchers wanted to know if monkeys had the same problem…
…The researchers contend the study could “provide nuance to our understanding of free will” or even “inform treatment for gambling addiction.” But taxpayers are likely to go totally bananas that NSF is monkeying around with federal research dollars.
The project is being funded as part of a $171,361 continuing grant to be provided by the National Science Foundation from June 2013 to May 2018.
6. Studying “hangry” spouses stabbing voodoo dolls – $331,000:
Over the course of twenty-one consecutive evenings, 107 couples were given a chance to stick up to 51 pins into a voodoo doll representing their spouse. The pin-pushing happened in secret, away from the other partner. Participants then recorded the number of pins they poked into the dolls. Those tests revealed what may already be obvious to many couples: a spouse with low blood sugar was an angrier one, and stuck more pins in the doll (on average)…
…Funding for the voodoo doll project came in part from [a] National Science Foundation grant worth $331,000.
7. Promoting U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists – $90 million:
In total, the State Department spends $90 million annually on cultural exchange programs…
…Given the success of music reality shows, the State Department organizes a $1.5 million dollar cultural musical exchange program “including public concerts, interactive performances with local traditional musicians, lecture demonstrations, workshops, jam sessions and media interviews and performances.” Many apply for the opportunity to tour the world on the taxpayer dime, and the grant recipient selects ten bands on the basis of “musical talent” and “strong educational programs, aptitude in arranging music from around the world and for their capacity to conduct effective cultural diplomacy programs…”
…One of last year’s participants was a nose flutist, or more appropriately, a “snoutist…”
8. State Department tweets @ terrorists – $3 million:
The State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) is responsible for crafting the official online presence of the U.S. government on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with the mission to counter the sophisticated propaganda machines of terrorist groups around the globe. This year, a portion of the $3 million taxpayers entrusted to CSCC was used to create the Think Again Turn Away Twitter account, which currently counts more than 2,000 tweets and 7,654 followers.
According to the State Department, the theory behind Think Again Turn Away is that it provides a counter to the tweets of “extremists [who] were previously able to spread their bile without fear of pushback.” Each tweet sent out by the CSCC’s Digital Outreach Team is crafted to “redirect the conversation” and put the extremists “on the defensive” to make them “aware that when they try to spread their message, they will encounter resistance.”
9. Mountain lions on a treadmill – $856,000:
In this study funded with an $856,000 NSF grant, three captive mountain lions were taught to use a treadmill. It took eight months of training before the cats were “comfortable on the treadmill.”
10. A taxpayer funded musical about teenage zombies in love – $10,000:
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded $10,000 to the Oregon Children’s Theatre to produce “Zombie in Love,” a musical about Mortimer, a teenage zombie “dying to find true love.”
11. NIH investigating whether moms love dogs as much as kids – $371,026:
Mothers have the same reaction when looking at photos of their dogs as they do to those of their own kids, according to recent government-funded research published this year.
The unique relationship between man and his pets is nothing new…
…Two of the scientists performing the study received a combined total of $371,026 from the National Institutes of Health this year, money intended for work in addiction research.
12. Symphony for stoners courtesy of a Colorado orchestra — $15,000:
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo
Hoping to raise some funds, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra hosted “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” a marijuana-themed musical revue that encourages people not only to show up, but to smoke up…
…In 2014, funding for the orchestra in the amount of $15,000 was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts through its “Art Works” program.
13. Packaging and marketing for an Alpaca Poop Pak — $50,000:
Virginia Mary’s Alpaca, LLC received a $50,000 Value-Added Producer Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to process, package and market Alpaca manure as plant fertilizer,” commercially sold as “Poop Paks.”
These are only a few of the dozens of examples of outrageous waste compiled in the Wastebook 2014.
While some of these are absurd to the point of comedy, there’s nothing funny about government wasting hard-earned tax dollars.
The 2014 edition of the Wastebook will unfortunately be the last, since Senator Tom Coburn is resigning at the end of the year.