President Obama’s State of the Union Address tomorrow evening provides him with a chance to explain how he would put the country on a path to a balanced budget. He should talk about entitlement program reforms and meaningful discretionary spending cuts, but he should also target the low-hanging fruit of spending: waste.

The Heritage Foundation’s “Federal Spending by the Numbers 2012” and Senator Tom Coburn’s (R–OK) “Waste Book 2012” illustrate that there is plenty of room for such spending cuts:

“Federal Spending by the Numbers 2012”:

  • Lost green energy equipment. A 2012 Department of Energy Inspector General audit found that the agency cannot locate $500,000 worth of green energy manufacturing equipment it purchased with stimulus money.
  • $2 million internship program. From 2010 through 2011, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Information Officer funded a $2 million intern program intended to enhance the agency’s IT security workforce. Only one intern was hired full time.
  • Extravagant Las Vegas conference. The General Services Administration (GSA), which is responsible for managing federal buildings and helping cut costs, held a 2010 conference in Las Vegas that cost $822,751, or more than $2,500 per employee. GSA paid for $44-per-person breakfasts and commemorative coins that cost $6,325.

“Waste Book 2012”:

  • Mars menu. The U.S. has not sent a man to Mars, but NASA spends nearly $1 million every year to create hypothetical menu options if humans one day live on Mars. In 2012, Cornell University and the University of Hawaii received $947,000 from NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project to develop creative menus.
  • Greek yogurt factory for New York. PepsiCo and Theo Müller Group are joining forces to build a Greek yogurt factory in Genesee County, New York. The Departments of Agriculture and Commerce granted them $1.3 million to jump-start the project.
  • Trolley system in St. Louis. The federal government is giving $35 million to St. Louis, Missouri, to construct an “old-fashioned style-trolley [sic] system.” The trolley will cover the 2.2-mile span between the Missouri History Museum and the University City Library, duplicating nearby bus and light-rail service.

Eliminating wasteful spending completely—even terminating the entire NASA budget, much less its Mars menu program—would not close the deficit. Lawmakers should cut waste, however, as a positive first step and to demonstrate that they are capable of tackling the main drivers of future spending and deficits: entitlement programs.

To date, President Obama and Congress have a poor record of cutting spending or reforming entitlement programs, but they can reverse course. Targeting government waste is a good place to start.

Jason Lloyd is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: