You don't have to look very far to find the U.S. government wasting money. It's everywhere. It's where you think it is and in places where you'd never even think of looking. The government's wasteful spending habits go way beyond the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.
With a federal debt north of $15 trillion and projected annual deficits exceeding $1 trillion as far as the eye can see, it's clear that the federal government has difficulty controlling costs or living within a budget. If it can't cut the low-hanging fruit listed in this article, how can anyone expect the politicians to make tough reductions in spending?
These are seven ways that the U.S. government wasted tax dollars in 2011. For a more lengthy view, discover all 100 ways in Sen. Tom Coburn’s Wastebook.
$175,587 - Study on Cocaine and the Risky Sex Habits of Quail
Why quail? The reason is because they easily reproduce in a laboratory and provide an alternative to standard laboratory pigeons and rats. Apparently, the government felt the need to prove what numerous studies have already determined - that cocaine use may increase high-risk sexual behavior in humans. Worse yet, the study is slated to continue through 2015.
It only sounds more ridiculous when you learn that the first installment of $181,406 was received in 2010 from the National Institute of Health to see how cocaine boosted the sex drive of Japanese quail.
The NIH provided the money to the study in order to better understand the correlation between drug use, risky sexual behavior and the spread of STDs in inner city neighborhoods. It will also look at how drug use affects sexual motivation.
$550,000 - A Movie on How Rock 'n' Roll Helped Defeat Communism
This documentary, directed by Jim Brown, is scheduled for release in May 2012. The 90-minute documentary will focus on the arrival of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the Soviet Union during the late 1970s.
This was shortly after the release of their album Will the Circle be Unbroken, and the reception they received was reminiscent of the Beatles. Rock the Kremlin emphasizes the benefits of soft power and cultural diplomacy, and intends to show how music imported from the West contributed to ending the cold war.
$592,527 - Proving That Feces-Throwing Is a Communication Skill for Chimps
The purpose of this study was to determine why chimpanzees often throw feces and food at passersby and what that has to do with the neurological origins of communications among the species.
The money from the NIH National Institutes of Health was given to Yerkes National Primate Research Center (associated with Emory University). The study found that Iin the wild, chimps learn to throw objects to manipulate the control of other chimps and primates. At a cost of over half a million dollars, it was discovered that the chimps that excelled at throwing feces also had the best communication skills.
This is not the only primate related study to receive funding. Emory University is also studying handedness in primates and its correlation to reproductive success.
$742,907 - Study on Sheep Grazing to Control Weeds
The Department of Agriculture gave money to Montana State University to conduct the study and develop two courses that cover and explain the findings. While most of us already knew that sheep will munch on weeds, apparently three quarters of a million dollars were needed to authenticate the obvious.
Since it doesn't require chemicals, organic farmers can use sheep to clear their fields instead of tilling, which can subject the topsoil to blowing or washing away. They also discovered that sheep manure will act as a natural fertilizer. The American Sheep Industry Association sells a $25 handbook that contains the same information.
The grant was one of 23 awarded last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, totaling $19 million.
$765,828 - Pancakes for Yuppies
Your tax dollars were used to partially fund a new International House of Pancakes in the popular Washington, DC neighborhood of Columbia Heights. While the money was intended for an underserved community, it made its way to this shopping hotspot that also features other prominent retailers such as Best Buy and Target. The irony is that the funding came from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is currently fighting a war against obesity. The IHOP serves two items from Men's Health magazine's Top 20 Most Unhealthy Menu Items list.
The development money was given to the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, an organization that promotes real estate and business development in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. According to the Congressional Research Service, a majority of the funding was used as an equity injection into DC Pancakes LCC for a 19% stake in ownership.
$17,800,000 - Gifts to China
Over $1 trillion of the U.S. national debt is owed to China. So why are the Department of State and Agency for International Development giving millions of dollars to that country when it could be used to pay down the debt? About $4.4 million was used to improve China's environment and $2.5 million went to various social services. These are noble goals, but China can afford to pay its own way. While the U.S. debt now exceeds GDP, China's debt is only 26% of GDP.
$120,000,000 - Government Benefits for Dead People
The government has been paying the dead for a while, costing tax-payers more than $600 million over the past five years. Most of the money consists of retirement and disability payments to deceased federal employees. In one egregious example, a son cashed his dead father's checks for 37 years, totaling more than $500,000. This scam was only discovered when the son died and he was no longer around to cash the checks. None of the money was ever recovered.
The problem lies, ultimately, in the improper and often complete lack of, reporting regarding the deaths of former employees. Recommendations have been made to correct the issue, and some improvements have been made, though only partial improvements, at best. More work clearly needs to be done on this front.
The Bottom Line
The programs covered here are hardly national priorities and only scratch the surface of Washington's wasteful and frivolous spending habits. Despite claims from all political corners that earmarks and pork-barrel spending will no longer be tolerated, the reality is that the waste continues unabated.
As the debt continues to climb exponentially and the value of the dollar is further jeopardized, the need to eliminate waste is more compelling than ever. If that can't be done, there's little hope for achieving a balanced budget.
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