Plenty of lawmakers talk about rooting out government waste, but Senator Tom Coburn makes a cause of it. He deploys staffers to peruse newspapers and dig through government websites to spot the tens of billions of dollars in pork, boondoggles and extravagance that have contributed to the government’s trillions of dollars of debt.
Coburn is retiring at the end of this year after a decade in the Senate, meaning the 239-page, meticulously footnoted volume he is releasing Wednesday will be his final Wastebook as senator. His departure is raising questions about who, if anyone, will pick up his oversight banner.
“To bureaucrats and politicians, none of this is waste, which is why the only way to stop wasteful Washington spending is by shining a light on it whenever and wherever it occurs, even if it is in your own state — especially when it is in your own state,” Coburn told The Washington Times. “That is why I think every member of Congress should issue their own version of Wastebook so we can debate and set our national priorities every year.”
The Times was allowed to watch some of the decision-making behind this year’s report as the senator and his staff talked through the projects, debated the order of the 10 most wasteful and drafted the report’s cover. This edition is designed to mimic the salacious supermarket tabloids in a commentary on how ridiculous some of the projects have become.
Leading this year’s edition is $19 million in salaries that the government paid to workers who were suspended from their jobs, usually because of misconduct that would have resulted in outright firing at a private company. Other highlights include the $50,000 spent to study whether sea monkeys’ swimming changes the flow of oceans, $450,000 that the Homeland Security Department spent on high-end gym memberships for staffers whose federal health insurance already pays for gym benefits and the increasing number of veterans who get disability payments by claiming sleep apnea at a cost Coburn said could reach $1.2 billion.
All told, Coburn identifies $25 billion in waste from the 100 projects.
“With no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem is not just what Washington isn’t doing, but what it is doing.” Dr. Coburn said. “Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up some of these projects.”
“I have learned from these experiences that Washington will never change itself. But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”
Congress actually forced federal agencies to waste billions of dollars for purely parochial, political purposes.
For example, lawmakers attached a rider to a larger bill requiring NASA to build a $350 million launch pad tower, which was mothballed as soon as it was completed because the rockets it was designed to test were scrapped years ago. Similarly, when USDA attempted to close an unneeded sheep research station costing nearly $2 million every year to operate, politicians in the region stepped in to keep it open.
Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2014” include:
- Coast guard party patrols – $100,000
- Watching grass grow – $10,000
- State department tweets @ terrorists – $3 million
- Swedish massages for rabbits – $387,000
- Paid vacations for bureaucrats gone wild – $20 million
- Mountain lions on a treadmill – $856,000
- Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys – $50,000
- Pentagon to destroy $16 billion in unused ammunition — $1 billion
- Scientists hope monkey gambling unlocks secrets of free will –$171,000
- Rich and famous rent out their luxury pads tax free – $10 million
- Studying “hangry” spouses stabbing voodoo dolls – $331,000
- Promoting U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists – $90 million
Related Link: Wastebook 2013