This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, October 24, 2014:
Entering his final year as Senator from Oklahoma, Dr. Tom Coburn just issued his “Wastebook” for 2014, listing 100 examples of government waste totaling more than $25 billion. They range from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the silly to the fraudulent. The fact that $25 billion is less than 7/10 of 1% of the total budget does little to mute the message or soften the impact of the ghastly, egregious projects at which the federal government is throwing heaps and gobs of taxpayer monies.
Faced with deadlines, journalists at the Washington Post, MSN.com, and GOPUSA.com were forced to pick and choose from this rancid buffet. The Post selected nine while MSN.com selected five with GOPUSA.com picking the top (or bottom) best (or worst) ten from the lot.
The more egregious examples include:
- “Swedish massages for rabbits,” a project of the National Institute Of Health, which paid $387,000 for a two-year study to see if rabbits recovered more quickly from exercise if they were given massages afterwards;
- The stoner musical entitled “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series” that was funded to the tune of $14,000 in a grant given to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra;
- Coast Guard craft used to provide waterfront security for private parties in front of some of the nation’s most exclusive shorefront real estate, costing taxpayers $1500 an hour and totaling more than $100,000 for these private services;
- There was the “Tower to Nowhere” that was forced by Republican lawmakers from Mississippi onto NASA to complete building a 300-foot tower that the agency cannot use. It was originally intended to test rocket engines that were part of a Bush-era space exploration program which Obama canceled back in 2010;
- There’s the brand-new bridge in Morrison, Colorado that cost $45,000 of taxpayer monies to demolish after the mayor of the town discovered that it was in violation of some obscure “Buy American” provisions that limited the amount of foreign steel that could be used in its construction. The Canadian portion of the bridge exceeded that limit by $771.64;
- Coburn discovered that the U.S. Postal Service has been helping to defray shipping costs of consumer items to remote villages in Alaska ever since 1972, at a cost of more than $2.5 billion. The annual subsidy of $77 million goes to the retailers receiving the goods, allowing them to pay about half what FedEx or UPS would charge;
- There’s something that Coburn calls “synchronized swimming for sea monkeys” that three federal agencies have funded with $307,500 to discover whether this plankton could “potentially influence the circulation of water in oceans”;
- There’s $200,000 from the Department of Agriculture to Empire Brewing in upstate New York to help them expand their operation to a 22-acre farm in Cazenovia;
- There was another grant of $200,000 of taxpayer funds to fund compost for a company called Worm Power; and
- Nearly $650,000 a year to send anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to military bases in Germany.
GOPUSA.com was especially upset when it learned that $50 million of taxpayer funds were spent by federal agencies to send their bureaucrats on paid vacations, calling them “administrative leave,” which allows them to continue participating in their health care programs, life insurance coverage, and retirement plans. According to Coburn, more than 1,000 federal employees were on paid leave for at least six months and hundreds more were given paid absences from work for a year or longer in 2013. Nearly 60,000 federal employees received paid leave for an entire month over a two-year period in addition to vacation time and paid holidays.
One of the most galling of those placed on “administrative leave” was none other than chief IRS miscreant Lois Lerner. Coburn’s comments regarding this outrage are worthy of note:
A Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report … found over a four-year period [that] the IRS singled out Tea Party and other conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status….
President Obama called the political targeting by the IRS “outrageous,” stating, “I have got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it,” asserting that “they have to be held fully accountable.”
Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division responsible for the actions, tried to pin the actions, which she called “absolutely inappropriate,” onto “lower-level workers” who “picked groups for extra scrutiny according to whether they had ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names….
Emails unearthed by investigators, however, show that Lerner was “directly involved in targeting conservative nonprofit groups for special scrutiny, beginning at the height of the 2010 midterm election season.” She was placed on paid administrative leave in May, 2013, and voluntarily retired from the IRS in September.
With an annual salary of about $185,000, she collected nearly $50,000 during the four months she was on administrative leave. Retiring before the Treasury Department can fire her allows Lerner to keep her pension, which will be more than $50,900 per year.
There’s a rumor that Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin may pick up the task of issuing Coburn’s “Wastebook” upon Coburn’s retirement at the end of the year. Coburn is suffering from a recurrence of prostate cancer, and announced his intention to retire in keeping with his promise not to run for a third term. Whether the effort in putting together annual “Wastebooks” is worth it, Coburn noted a few victories over the years:
Victories are occurring despite the actions and lack of actions taken by Congress.
[The Bridge to Nowhere] may have been approved by Congress, but it was never built because of the public outrage it sparked….
An airport in Oklahoma that averaged just one flight per month was landing nearly half a million in federal subsidies a year was closed after appearing in Wastebook….
The National Science Foundation canceled a climate change musical showcased in Wastebook.
Under the Constitution, it’s Congress’s job to monitor, track, and follow (and discipline where necessary) the behavior of the Executive Branch. It’s one of those balance-of-power limitations built into that marvelous document, but one that Congress continues to ignore as its members spend more and more of their time running for reelection. For instance, when Congress adjourned on September 18, that was its earliest adjournment since 1960.
That being the case, the need for annual “Wastebook” reports will be more and more important in the future so that voters can learn what their elected representatives are doing to them.