Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Wednesday released his 2014 Wastebook, an annual list of 100 ways the federal government supposedly frittered away taxpayer dollars.
The 2014 edition will the fifth and final version of the book, as Coburn, battling a recurrence of prostate cancer, has made plans to step down after the current session of Congress ends in January
This year, the senator claims to have identified $25 billion in waste. Some of the costs occurred because the government sometimes struggles to do its job, such as when it fails to prevent tax fraud. Others relate to pet projects from lawmakers and federal agencies.
“Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up with some of the zany projects the government paid for this year,” Coburn said in the report.
Many Wastebook projects sound ridiculous on the surface but could hold real value for the American people. Others are just plain ridiculous.
Below are nine noteworthy examples of alleged waste that Coburn cited in this year’s publication. You can decide which category they fall into.
Swedish massages for rabbits ($387,000): The National Institutes of Health paid for a two-year study that involved giving rabbits daily post-exercise rub downs from a “mechanical device that simulates the long, flowing strokes used in Swedish massages.” The goal was to measure the impact on recovery from workouts.
A stoner symphony (part of $15,000): The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which received $15,000 last year from the National Endowment for the Arts, hosted a marijuana-themed musical titled “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series.” One advertisement encouraged potential patrons to “Smoke up and fill your belly with Manna’s spiced pork, Sesame Seed Teriyaki Chicken, & Filipino Empanadas,” according to Coburn. Even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, pot dealers were not allowed to sell product inside the shows.
The Colorado Symphony has disputed Coburn’s suggestion that the federal grant was used for the “Classically Cannabis” series.
“The grant dollars were specifically earmarked to support a series of four symphonic concerts, as well as in-school performances for elementary and middle school students,” said Jerome Kern, chief executive and co-chair of the symphony. “The grant covered approximately half of the Colorado Symphony’s expenses for this concert series; the balance is paid through ticket revenue, sponsorship and contributions from individual donors.”
U.S. Coast Guard party patrols (at least $100,000): The Coast Guard provided free waterway security for private parties on some of the most exclusive real estate in the nation, “just as it does for public fireworks displays such as the Macy’s Fourth of July celebration in New York City,” according to an Associated Press report cited in the Wastbook. Some of the Coast Guard boats used for the events are worth $1,500 an hour, and taxpayers picked up the tab for their use.
A “Tower to Nowhere” forced upon NASA ($350 million to date): Republican lawmakers from Mississippi successfully pushed through an earmark requiring the National Aeronautic and Space Administration to complete work on a 300-foot tower that the agency has no use for. The structure, located at a space center in Mississippi, is designed to test rocket engines that were part of a George W. Bush-era space program that President Obama canceled in 2010. NASA doesn’t plan to develop any new rockets that could be tested in the “Tower of Pork” or “Tower to Nowhere,” as the structure is known.
A new bridge demolished for using Canadian steel ($45,000): The Federal Highway Administration helped fund a $144,000 bridge in Morrison, Colo., that had to be demolished because the American-cast steel in the structure was rolled into beams in Canada. U.S. “Buy American” provisions limit the amount of foreign steel that can be used in federally funded construction projects. Morrison Mayor Sean Forey said the value of the Canadian portion of the project exceeded a $2,500 minimum in the grant contract by $771.64.
Postal Service grocery shipments to remote Alaska ($77 million): The U.S. Postal Service has shipped consumer items to remote villages in Alaska since 1972 at a cost of $2.5 billion since 1972, including $77 million annually in recent years. The “Alaska Bypass” program, which was detailed in a Washington Post report this summer, amounts to a giant subsidy for retailers who receive the goods, as they pay the agency about half of what it would cost them to ship the products commercially.
Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys ($307,500): Three federal agencies supported a study measuring the swirl created by the collective movements of sea monkeys, a tiny variety of brine shrimp. The researchers found that the creatures, along with other swimming plankton, could “potentially influence the circulation of water in oceans.” The National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation contributed $307,524 to the project, but sea-monkey kits can be purchased online for as little as $12.
* This article was updated on Oct. 24 with comments from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.