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October 21st, 2017

Insight

Your tax dollars at play

A. Barton Hinkle

By A. Barton Hinkle

Published Nov. 10, 2014

You think the federal government wastes money? You don't know the half of it. During the past year alone, Washington has shelled out billions to give bureaucrats paid vacations in lieu of discipline; to ship coal to Germany for no reason; to design better golf clubs; and to give bunny rabbits massages — among many other things.

According to received wisdom, Americans ought to be clear about three things: (1) You can't balance the federal budget by targeting waste, fraud and abuse. (2) The spending cuts imposed by sequestration have been devastating. (3) We might have an Ebola vaccine by now if federal agencies had received adequate funding.

Each of these propositions contains some truth. No amount of pork-trimming can offset the huge outlays for entitlements, which (along with interest on the debt) will soon consume every dollar Washington collects. Sequestration's cuts do indeed apply equally to crucial government outlays, such as military flight training, as well as foolish ones. And while there's no guarantee more spending would have produced an Ebola vaccine by now, there's no guarantee it wouldn't, either.

But arguments like those offer cold comfort when you page through the latest issue of Sen. Tom Coburn's Wastebook, which relates just some of the myriad ways the federal government squanders your hard-earned pay.

It begins by noting that many federal workers are placed on paid administrative leave for offenses that, in the private sector, would result in summary dismissal. Such as? Such as buying liquor with government charge cards, watching porn at work or not doing their jobs. At the Department of Homeland Security, 237 employees were put on paid leave for more than 10 days this past year — more than 200 of them for misconduct.

Last year DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the sequester would put "our nation at risk" by "significantly negatively affecting . . . operations." (That's bureaucrat-speak for harming them.) Yet this year, DHS was able to find enough change in the seat cushions to pay for night-vision goggles, a robot and chemical suits for Ithaca, N.Y. — which already boasts the distinction of being named one of America's safest small towns by Farmers Insurance.

The House Armed Services Committee has warned that sequestration "put our military and national security at risk." But Congress can be only so alarmed — given that it continues forcing the Air Force to heat military bases in Germany with anthracite coal mined in Pennsylvania. The Defense Department has pleaded to no avail "to end this earmark because it wasted hundreds of millions of dollars annually," the Wastebook reports.

The litany of lunacy runs on and on, and includes expenditures such as. . .


$5 million from the FAA to renovate a city golf course in Sioux Falls, S.D.;

$371,000 for fMRI scans to test whether mothers love dogs as much as kids;

$41 billion on a missile defense system with a 70 percent failure rate;

$95,000 for a museum celebrating the Drug Enforcement Agency;

$1.25 million for a Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Miss.;

$77 million so the Postal Service can ship pallets of soda and other supplies to remote Alaskan villages;

$16 million from the Department of Transportation to keep a crumbling mall in Fresno, Calif., on life support;

$1 billion by the Pentagon to destroy $16 billion worth of ammunition it no longer wants.

$3.5 million from HUD to build water-themed playgrounds in New Jersey, Alabama and elsewhere;

$2 million for a sheep research station the Department of Agriculture wanted to shut down (Congress said no);

$45,000 by NASA for experiments on the International Space Station that "will examine a variety of coatings and metals used in golf products"; and

$50,000 from the USDA to help Alpaca farmers market Alpaca manure, aka the "perfect poop."

A special word ought to be said about the National Science Foundation, which seems to have a fetish for funding ridiculous research projects, to the tune of . . .

$307,000 to study the micro-turbulence stirred up by the swimming of brine shrimp, aka Sea Monkeys;

$331,000 to discover that — surprise! — "hungry people are cranky and aggressive";

$171,000 teaching monkeys to play video games to prove that monkeys, like people, wrongly believe in winning and losing streaks; and

$856,000 to teach mountain lions to run on a treadmill, to better analyze their caloric consumption rates.


Then there's the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an arm of the National Institutes of Health. In the past two years, it has spent $387,000 on a study testing the effects of Swedish massage on the muscle recovery of rabbits that had recently been exercised.

That should come in real handy in the fight against Ebola.

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A. Barton Hinkle is Deputy Editor of the Editorial Pages at Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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