When the sequester cuts slashed $85 billion from the federal budget, crippling federal programs like Head Start and halting crucial research at the National Institutes of Health, the government continued spending tax dollars on things like 3-D pizza printers for NASA, a beachfront property loan program for millionaires, and a $300 million Army surveillance blimp that doesn’t work.
Those are just three of the 100 examples of egregious government waste that cost taxpayers $30 billion this year--all detailed in Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) annual “Wastebook,” released Tuesday.
The report, obtained Monday night by The Fiscal Times, documents a host of federally-subsidized programs and projects that have incurred significant costs while offering little or no benefit to taxpayers.
The report isn’t just about big ticket items; it also includes a spate of rather obscure, little-known projects, including a federally funded grant of nearly $400,000 awarded to Yale University to study the “oddity of the duck penis.” Another example is a $200,000 grant from the International Trade Administration that was awarded to a group of indie rock execs to travel the world and discover new music.
“Collectively these cost more than $30 billion in a year when Washington would have you believe everything that could be done has been done to control unnecessary spending,” Sen. Coburn said in a statement. “Had just these 100 been eliminated, the sequester amount would have been reduced nearly a third without any noticeable disruption.”
In his report, Coburn wastes no time in taking aim at his colleagues in the do-nothing 113th Congress, which, he says, achieved very little this year, aside from passing 56 laws, forcing a 16-day government shutdown and maintaining an approval rating that hovers around 10 percent.
“The first session of the 113th Congress will likely go down in history as the least productive in history, more notable for what it did not do than what it did,” Coburn said. He added that the government shutdown cost taxpayers $400 million, reinstating paychecks for furloughed federal employees earning more than $100,000 a year. This includes members of Congress.
“Congress should not be paid when it fails to pass an annual budget required by law,” Coburn said.
The latest “Wastebook” was released just ahead of a Senate vote on a bipartisan budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), which passed the House last week.
Coburn, a Republican and well known deficit hawk, voiced his disappointment about the deal during an interview on MSNBC last week, saying it doesn’t go far enough to address the long-term debt and doesn’t achieve any savings by eliminating any of the wasteful spending highlighted in his report.
“None of that's addressed in this. None of the waste, the duplication, the fraud. None of it," he said.
Here are some of the highlights of the report:
Beachfront Property for Millionaires — $500 million: A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) home loan program, created to help people with low and moderate incomes afford a home in “rural areas” has been used by many millionaires in “resort communities” in tropical paradises like Hawaii. According to the report, more than 100 individuals or families received loan guarantees for $500,000 or more from the USDA to purchase a home in Hawaii. And here’s the kicker: “If these new homeowners later cannot afford their new homes it’s no problem, the federal government will protect the banks from losses by repaying 90 percent of the loans,” the report says. Last year, it paid nearly $500 million in lost claims.
Botched Blimp — $300 million: The Army spent three and a half years and nearly $300 million to build a football field-sized blimp called the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, to provide continuous surveillance over Afghanistan battlefields; but the project was riddled with errors and cost overruns, so the Army eventually sold it back to the contractor.
NASA’s “Pillownauts” — $360,000: During the shutdown, 97 percent of NASA’s staff was laid off. Still, the agency was paying 20 people $18,000 each to literally lie around and do nothing for 70 days, their bodies “slightly tilted forward” as part of a study to help scientists learn how astronauts' bodies will change in space flight. NASA, however, isn’t planning any missions any time in the foreseeable future, since it no longer has a manned space program… So the people getting paid to lie in bed all day might as well keep dreaming.
Fort Hood Shooter Still on Federal Payroll — $53,000 (in 2013): Alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nadal Hasson continues to get paid a federal salary, since the Military Code of Justice doesn’t allow a soldier to be suspended until he or she is found guilty. He made $52,952 in 2013 and $278,000 total since allegedly killing 13 and injuring 32 in 2009.
NASA Looks for Intelligent Life in Congress — $3 million: Since NASA’s space program has been grounded, it’s left to search for intelligent life on Earth. Curiously enough, it has chosen to explore Capitol Hill and the inner workings of Congress. Teaming up with Georgetown University, NASA will embark on its next mission of hosting a one-week seminar exploring how Congress works - almost as complicated and mysterious as the solar system?
Television Ads for Hurricane Sandy — $65 million: Of the $60.4 billion Congress appropriated for areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy, at least $65 million was put toward local television ads. Instead of rushing aid to the people who needed it most, state officials in New York and New Jersey spent the money on tourism-related TV advertisements. Making this particularly vexing for some local residents, "the flow of disaster aid has been both paltry and slow,” the report said.
Duplicate IT Systems — $321 million: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent over $30 million on two IT programs that serve the same purpose. Both support “immigration enforcement booking management," which includes the processing of apprehended illegal aliens suspected of committing criminal violations of immigration law. However, DHS said it has no plans to address the duplicative expenditures. Similar problems have occurred at DOD, where the Air Force has two duplicative IT systems. According to a recent GAO report, three agencies have spent $321 million for overlapping IT purposes during the past several years.
Bureau of Print and Engraving Ruined New $100 Bills — $4 million: The new $100 dollar bills came out in October, after several setbacks pushed back their release date. One of the latest incidents happened in the fall when too much ink was applied to the paper (known as “mashing”). As a result, the Federal Reserve returned the bills to the Bureau and demanded a refund. The incident cost taxpayers about $4 million.
Half a Million to Spruce Up Block in Kansas Town — $500,000: The Department of Transportation awarded Rossville, Kansas—a tiny town with a population of 1,150—a grant of $532,000 to make one block in the downtown area “more decorative and colorful.” According to the report, the “decorative and colorful improvements to one street block in Rossville, Kansas, cost U.S. taxpayers $462 per resident of Rossville, or $38,000 for each of the 14 businesses located on this block of Main Street.” Maybe taxpayers across the country will now swarm to Rossville to enjoy the block they helped fund.
NASA’s 3D Pizza Printer — $125,000: NASA awarded a $124,955 grant to Arjun Contractor to build a 3-D pizza printer. The space agency spends about $1 million on “Martian food development.” According to the report, a NASA scientist involved in the 3D printer pizza said it could be years until the creation becomes feasible. Too bad - it sounds out of this world. - Follow Brianna Ehley on Twitter @BriannaEhley
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