Friday, May 18, 2012

You Spent What?

“It’s only m-m-m-money.”
—Bill Murray as Frank X. Cross in Scrooged

This is your federal government at work.

Recent news events have revealed the massive GSA—ironically, that’s the Government Services Administration, the agency charged with, among other things, overseeing federal spending to avoid waste and fraud—boondoggles in Vegas ($823,000 for 300 employees to attend a conference) and Hawaii (five employees stayed a week on the taxpayer dime for a one-hour groundbreaking ceremony).  Yesterday we learned that the District has been funding such critical projects as a study into erectile dysfunction, and whether people tell the truth in surveys about their sex habits.

And you thought Kinsey was dead.

These GSA binges and federally-funded prurient academic exercises are not isolated incidents.  They are indicators of a culture of entitlement that is endemic in the District.  The politicians and bureaucrats that make up the Beast have long come to view the federal taxpayer as an unlimited sugar daddy into whose pocket they may dip at their pleasure either for personal indulgences or for Scooby Snacks to dole out to their cronies.  Even the few half-decent that are left are forced to try to get as many federally-funded goodies as they can, simply to recapture for their constituents what they can of money that’s going to be spent somewhere no matter what.

But some of this is just inexplicably stupid.

Consider Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) annual  "Wastebook," which chronicles some of the more egregious examples every year.  These are not necessarily the biggest-ticket items (although some are HUGE), but some of the more bizarre.  I’ve excerpted some of the 100 items from this year’s list below out of just three agencies (numbers in parentheses correspond to the spot on Coburn’s list).

Pakistan and Other Inexplicable Foreign Aid--USAID
Many of us wonder why, at a time when we borrow some 40 cents or more of every dollar we spend, we give hundreds of billions of dollars to foreign countries.  It’s not exactly buying us a lot of friends.  But look at some of the foolishness on which it’s spent:

The Mango Man (2)—The US Agency for International Development spent $30 million in 2011 to aid Pakistani mango farmers.  This stems from a four year $90 million program begun in 2009 to boost hiring and sales in five product areas.  By 2011, USAID had abandoned four: leather, livestock, textiles, and dates.  Instead it focused on the fifth product, mangoes, with a goal of boosting sales 20% by providing farmers with equipment to clean, freeze, and store the fruit.  But the one farmer who actually received the equipment couldn’t operate it due to defects, and now many farmers who undertook loans based on the promise of increased productivity are now facing default.  Thanks for the help.

Sesame Street (13)—USAID contributed $10 million to remake Sesame Street in Pakistan.  Like Elmo is going to stop some kid from joining Al Qaeda.

“Green” Pumps (35)—USAID spent $12 million in 2011 ($23 million over 3 years) in a failed effort to upgrade irrigation pumps with newer more energy efficient models, again in Pakistan.  The original plan was to replace 11,000 pumps, but current estimates are that only 1500 will be replaced by the end of the program.  Shockingly, despite a nearly 90% reduction in the program’s output, there will be no change in the final bill to the taxpayer.

Casualty Buyoffs (90)—USAID paid $15 million in 2011 ($52 million since 2007) to assist families of civilians killed in Afghanistan.  But inspectors have reported that the program is not on target to achieve its main goal, is failing to reach the most eligible recipients, and involves huge amounts of food that is rotting before it can be distributed.  Again, thanks for the help.

Drugs, Diversions, and Perversions--NIH
One of my favorite categories is that collection of expenditures devoted to the trivial and sometimes twisted study of sundry pastimes and behaviors.  Not only are all of these of dubious utility and almost certainly outside the proper bounds set under the Constitution, but many you just have to wonder who comes up with this?

Boob Tube (17)—The National Institutes of Health gave a $702,558 grant in 2011 ($1.3 million to date) for researchers at Penn State University to study the effect of TV on rural Vietnamese families.  These are people so remote and so poor that the researchers not only had to provide the TV sets, but gasoline generators to power them (so much for reducing carbon emissions).  In such locales one wonders what programming they can pick up; maybe they can get Bill Maher on HBO via satellite.

Birds ‘n Bees (23)—NIH gave another grant of $175,587 in 2011 ($356,933 to date) to the University of Kentucky to stuck the effect of cocaine on the sex habits of Japanese quail.  Really?  Query how they’re conducting this study with federal money, given that possession of the cocaine presumably needed to do it is a federal crime.

Smoking Hookahs (63)—NIH gave a $55,382 grant to Virginia Commonwealth University to study hookah smoking among Jordanian students.  Don’t we all sleep better knowing our government is on top of this?

Monkey See, Monkey Poo (91)—In my personal favorite, NIH contributed $592,527 for researchers in Atlanta to study the communications skills of chimpanzees who throw their feces.  Yep, what survey of wasteful government spending would be complete without an entry on your federal tax dollars being given to someone who wants to study shit-throwing monkeys? (Yes, I know they’re technically apes)

I ask again:  who comes up with this stuff?

Miscellaneous Stupidity--NSF
Then there’s the just plain silliness coming out of the National “Science” Foundation:

Dance The Night Away (66)— The National Science Foundation NSF spent $300,000 to create an interpretive dance presentation on the origins of matter.  I’m not even making that up.

Improving Government (80)—NSF gave a $425,642 grant for a study with the rather presumptuous goal of informing local politicians in India how to improve their own local elected officials.  How is this a National Science Foundation function?  [As an aside, Senator Coburn further points out that India, the world’s fifth-largest (and one of the fastest-growing) economy and a major sovereign holder of our debt, receives over $120 million in US aid annually.]

Thor’s Blankets (94)—NSF spent $338,998 as part of a multi-year grant to study the impact on Icelandic commerce of women’s work in textiles from 874 A.D. to 1800 A.D.  Who (outside of Iceland, if even there) gives a crap about ancient Icelandic commerce?  And again, how on earth is that a function of the National Science Foundation, much less the United States federal government?

Yes, folks, this is the District at work, and it shows you just how totally out of control it is.  True, there are much bigger-ticket items like the unconstitutional and totally dysfunctional Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs.  But you have to look at some of these line items and ask whether there’s anyone left on either side of the aisle minding the store?  Is there anything the District won’t fund?

I don’t care what your political persuasion is, if there isn’t at least one thing on this list that really, really pisses you off, then I can’t help you.

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