Wastebook 2014: 15 Ridiculous Ways The Government Used Your Money This Year
With a brightly colored cover that blares warnings like “Voodoo! Zombies!” and “Monkeys Gambling With Your Money: Uncle Sam’s Stupid Pet Tricks,” the 2014 edition of the annual Wastebook, compiled by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), looks like a cartoon relic of Cold-War-era sensationalism. However, inside is a goldmine of information. Containing exactly 100 items detailing the worst examples of U.S. government waste, this year’s Wastebook airs billions of dollars’ worth of dirty government laundry, including taxpayer-funded projects related to watching grass grow, synchronized swimming for sea monkeys, ghost malls and federally funded ice cream. Some of these projects sound legitimately interesting, while others are not that interesting but are designed to stimulate the economy; still others sound just plain wasteful. Here are just a few of the best/worst items.
1. Swedish Massages For Rabbits
According to the Wastebook, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health provided $387,000 for this two-year project, which ended in April. First the rabbits were “subjected” to exercise; they were then inserted into a mechanical device that mimicked the action of a Swedish massage in order to study the impact of massage on muscle aches and pains. Sen. Coburn suggests that perhaps they could have used human subjects instead of spending money on anesthesia, stimulating nerve cuffs, rabbit-sized foot pedals and rabbit massage machines.
2. Spouses Stab Voodoo Dolls More Often When Hangry
That’s right: It’s a study about voodoo, hunger and anger all rolled into one. Researchers apparently spent $331,000 to study the effects of hanger as related to aggression by giving hungry married people voodoo dolls representing their spouses and telling them to stab whenever they felt angry. The unsurprising results? Hangry people are more “cranky and aggressive.”
3. Gambling Monkeys
Scientists wanted to know if monkeys shared the common human belief in hot and cold streaks as related to gambling, so the National Science Foundation poured $100,000+ into a study in which monkeys played computerized gambling games. Coburn used this opportunity to break out the puns, pointing out that “Taxpayers are likely to go totally bananas that NSF is monkeying around with federal research dollars.” There’s no word on whether or not the monkeys then became shameless gambling addicts who ruined their families’ lives with their financially destructive addiction.
4. Zombies In Love
This one only cost $10,000, but it was quite an awesome use of $10,000. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the money to the Oregon Children’s Theatre to produce a musical called “Zombie In Love,” featuring “gentle” brain-eating and a zombie called Mortimer who is searching for true love. Sen. Coburn doesn’t approve of this subject matter, but all the little kids who got to learn new vocabulary words like “maggots” probably did.
5. Coast Guard Party Patrols
The phrase “party patrols” oozes with possibility. Was the Coast Guard patrolling on a series of party boats while participating in a never-ending, shirtless party? Were they patrolling maritime parties to make sure enough fun was being had? Or were they perhaps acting as the party police, enforcing the Coast Guard’s strict policy of no partying along the coastline of the United States? The actual answer sounds even less likely than the things I just made up: In 2014, Coburn states that the U.S. Coast Guard spent over $100,000 on providing “free patrols” to some of the country’s “most exclusive real estate to stop uninvited guests from crashing private parties.” There’s clearly a lesson to be learned here, and the lesson is that if you’re rich and having a wedding, regatta or yacht club party, the Coast Guard will be there to make sure none of the unwashed rabble can place one filthy finger on your luxury yacht.
6. Synchronized Swimming For Sea Monkeys
Sea monkeys, it turns out, are “tiny brine shrimp.” These miniscule shrimp can be trained to follow a beam of light, making it appear as if they’re following your commands or swimming like an Olympic synchronized swim team. To test out these claims, a group of scientists choreographed a bunch of lasers to guide some sea monkeys and measure the swirl created by their movements in order to see if their swimming routine could have any impact on the circulation of ocean water. This apparently cost over $300,000, and the study is still ongoing.
7. Promoting U.S. Culture With Nose Flutes And Rapping
The State Department decided to promote cultural exchange with a music-based program that included public concerts, workshops, jam sessions and more. The bands involved get to tour the world after first auditioning for judges from the State Department; Sen. Coburn whimsically dubs this “Department of State Idol,” and notes that one of last year’s participants was a rapper with a song called “Dem Shawts,” while another was a nose flutist — otherwise known as a snoutist.
8. Launchpad To Nowhere
Calling this “NASA’s Tower of Pork,” Sen. Coburn creatively claims that “NASA has lost its way and Washington politicians are plundering its budget to pay for parochial pork projects rather than redirecting the agency’s gaze back to the stars.” As sensationally phrased as this is, it appears that Coburn has a point: The A-3 rocket testing tower, which cost $350 million and was built during George W. Bush’s reign as part of a program intended to send astronauts to the moon, was canceled in 2010 by President Obama. However, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote an amendment to a bill passed by Congress that effectively forced NASA to finish the project even though it was no longer needed. If Coburn’s facts are correct, it will cost $840,000 a year to maintain the tower that NASA will not be using.
9. Sheep Station
Can sheep ever really be that controversial? Well, when they cost $2 million a year, they can. The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, is a USDA research facility that costs $2 million a year to run and was deemed no longer financially viable; Congressional funding was supposed to be reallocated to the study of grizzly bears and their access to Yellowstone instead. However, Congress insisted that the sheep station remain open. This made a lot of people angry, and the debate continues to rage over the edgy world of sheep research.
10. Bridge Torn Down For Using Canadian Steel
According to some arbitrary rule, federally funded projects must use materials made in the U.S., so a perfectly good Colorado bridge might be torn down at a cost of $20,000 in addition to its original tab of $144,00 because even though the steel beams supporting the bridge were cast in the U.S., they traveled over the border to Canada to be rolled into beams. The horror! The inhumanity! Beams that were rolled in Canada!!!
11. $5 Million On Fruit And Vegetable Costumes
The University of Tennessee requires $5 million for its student-run campaign encouraging other students to eat more fruits and vegetables. What exactly does this $5 million fund? So far, it looks like fruit and vegetable costumes and not much else. Sen. Coburn claims that the “Fruved” campaign has no clear guidelines or goals and that its website is undeveloped. This appears to be true, as there is little on the website aside from a video and links to several inactive social media accounts related to the fruit- and vegetable-based teams. None of the teams have tweeted anything, although Team Carrot and Team Grapes are currently the most popular, with three followers each on Twitter. Team Tomato must feel like such a loser right now.
12. Social Security “Streamlining”
The above title probably seems like an oxymoron, because nothing about Social Security is ever streamlined — especially its $288 million project to update its tracking system, which was supposed to be finished in 2008. (Spoiler: It’s not finished.)
13. DoD Attempts To Build $80 Million Ironman Suit
Much like the 2010 film “Iron Man II,” in which the greedy Justin Hammer has knockoff Ironman suits built in an attempt to sell them to the U.S. military that goes horribly, horribly wrong, the real-life U.S. military thinks that the idea of armored robot suits for soldiers is just grand. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea.
14. Worm Power
It’s time to harness the awesome power of earthworms! In a process called vermicomposting, which may be the best word ever invented, worms are given cow manure to eat so they can in turn poop out a “disease-preventing mixture of soil and fertilizer.” A company called Worm Power received two grants from the USDA for this patented system; together, they totaled about $200,000. It seems sort of unfair to call this waste, though, since Worm Power’s “fat, dumb and happy” worms are actually eliminating waste and turning it into fertile dirt.
15. State-Of-The-Art Gym And Spa For Department Of Homeland Security
Does $450,000 sound like an appropriate amount to spend on gym memberships for DHS employees? If you answered yes, then you are one satisfied taxpayer, because that’s how much the department spent on 236 gym memberships for its Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees. According to the Wastebook, the gym, called Vida Fitness, offers a spa, a salon, a gear shop, “Endless Pools, luxurious locker rooms and the rooftop Penthouse Pool and Lounge.” Not too shabby for government work!