Exotic dancers, robotic squirrels, and a reality TV show in India—your tax dollars supported all of these this year.
Two reports just released—“Federal Spending by the Numbers 2012” by The Heritage Foundation and “Waste Book 2012,” a report by the office of Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK)—shed light on these and other examples of Washington’s irresponsible spending.
If you value your tax dollars, you’re sure to be outraged by these wasteful projects. Following are the top 10 examples, five from each report. Though not necessarily the biggest ticket items, they are no doubt wasteful and representative of Washington’s spending addiction that must end.
- A reality TV show in India. The Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program spends $200 million a year to help U.S. agricultural trade associations and cooperatives advertise their products in foreign markets. In 2011, it funded a reality TV show in India that advertised U.S. cotton.
- Studying pig poop. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $141,450 grant under the Clean Air Act to fund a Chinese study on swine manure and a $1.2 million grant to the United Nations for clean fuel promotion.
- Amtrak snacks. Federally subsidized Amtrak lost $84.5 million on its food and beverage services in 2011 and $833.8 million over the past 10 years. It has never broken even on these services.
- Using military exercises to boost biofuels. The U.S. Navy bought 450,000 gallons of biofuels for $12 million—or almost $27 per gallon—to conduct exercises to showcase the fuel and bring it closer toward commercialization. It is the largest biofuel purchase ever made by the government.
- Conferences for government employees. In 2008 and 2009 alone, the Department of Justice spent $121 million to host or participate in 1,832 conferences.
- “RoboSquirrel.” $325,000 was spent on a robotic squirrel named “RoboSquirrel.” This National Science Foundation grant was used to create a realistic-looking robotic squirrel for the purpose of studying how a rattlesnake would react to it.
- Cupcakes. In Washington, D.C., and elsewhere across the country, cupcake shops are trending. The 10 cupcake shop owners who received $2 million in Small Business Administration loan guarantees, however, can only boast so much of their entrepreneurial ingenuity, since taxpayers are backing them up.
- Food stamps for alcohol and junk food. Though they were intended to ensure hungry children received healthy meals, taxpayer-funded food stamps were instead spent on fast food at Taco Bell and Burger King; on non-nutritious foods such as candy, ice cream, and soft drinks; and on some 2,000 deceased persons in New York and Massachusetts. Food stamp recipients spent $2 billion on sugary drinks alone. Improper SNAP payments accounted for $2.5 billion in waste, including to one exotic dancer who was making $85,000 per year.
- Beer brewing in New Hampshire. Despite Smuttynose brewery’s financial success and popularity, it is still getting a $750,970 Community Development Block Grant to build a new brewery and restaurant facilities.
- A covered bridge to nowhere. What list of government waste would be complete without a notorious “bridge to nowhere”? In this case, it’s $520,000 to fix the Stevenson Road Covered Bridge in Green County, Ohio, which was last used in 2003.
Some of this waste hardly amounts to a rounding error by current federal budget standards. However, no spending cut is too small. Congress should root out even small instances of waste. Doing so will build momentum for it to tackle difficult, long-term budget challenges, such as entitlement program reform.
Fiscal year 2012 is the fourth consecutive year with a trillion-dollar-plus deficit. Total federal debt has surpassed $16 trillion. Federal spending reached $3.6 trillion—or 22.9 percent as a share of the economy—in 2012. Despite these frightening figures, which are on track to worsen, Congress continues to expand government.
Wasteful spending is intrinsic in big government, because government is concerned primarily with getting checks out the door and only secondarily with spending the money properly.
As both “Federal Spending by the Numbers 2012” and “Waste Book 2012” warn, it is long past time for Congress to put the brakes on this wasteful spending—full stop.