Senator Coburn's 'Wastebook' Report Singles Out $30B In Federal Spending

Tuesday, December 17th 2013, 11:38 am
By: News On 6

One million dollars to build a bus stop in Virginia. Five million for customized crystal stemware. Those are just some of the items paid for by the federal government last year.

A new report out Tuesday by Oklahoma Republican senator, called the "Wastebook," details $30 billion in questionable spending.

The annual, lengthy account features 100 examples of federal costs.

Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in "Wastebook 2013" include:

• Uncle Sam Looking for Romance on the Web – (NEH) $914,000

The Popular Romance Project has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) since 2010 to "explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and Internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks."

• Mass Destruction of Weapons – (Department of Defense) $7 billion

As the U.S. war effort in the Middle East winds to a close, the military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment. The military has decided that it will simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home.

• Millions Spent Building, Promoting an Insurance Plan Few Want and a Website that Doesn't Work – (Department of Health and Human Services) At least $379 million

With nearly half-a-billion dollars in government funding put behind promoting a product that relatively few people seem interested in purchasing off a website that doesn't work, Obamacare is perhaps the biggest marketing flop since Coca-Cola introduced the world to "New Coke" in 1985.

• Government Study Finds Out Wives Should Calm Down (NIH) $325,525

If your wife is angry at you and you don't want her to stay that way, you might avoid passing along the findings of this government study. Wives would find marriage more satisfying if they could calm down faster during arguments with their husbands, according to government-funded research.

• Fort Hood Shooter Continued to Collect Government Paycheck (Army) ($52,952 in 2013)

While the families of the survivors and victims were fighting to receive military benefits, the Fort Hood shooter Major Nadal Hasan was cashing his paycheck. Since the shooting, Hasan has received over $278,000 in military benefits because the Military Code of Justice doesn't allow a soldier to be suspended until they are found guilty.

• NASA Searches for Signs of Intelligent Life … in Congress – (NASA) $3 million

One of NASA's next research missions won't be exploring an alien planet or distant galaxy. Instead, the space agency is spending $3 million to go to Washington, D.C. and study one of the greatest mysteries in the universe—how Congress works.

• Hurricane Sandy "Emergency" Funds Spent on TV Ads ($65 million)

In January 2013, Congress passed a bill to provide $60.4 billion for the areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. However, instead of rushing aid to the people who need it most, state-level officials in New York and New Jersey spent the money on tourism-related TV advertisements.

• Federally Funded Solar Panels Covered at Manchester-Boston Airport Because the Glare Blinds Pilots and Controllers (FAA) - $3.5 million

When officials at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire installed new solar panels, they did not anticipate one quarter of them would not be used 18 months later. In Spring 2012, the panels were placed on top of the airport's parking garage, and 25 percent have remained there, covered with a tarp, rendering them useless. Problems with the new panels were noticed almost immediately by air traffic controllers who claimed that for 45 minutes each day, glare made it difficult to oversee the airport's runways.

• Need Brains! Fighting Zombies with Pluses and Minuses -- (NC) $150,000

A grant from NSF went to a company in North Carolina to develop a math learning game based on the zombie apocalypse.

• NASA's Little Green Man (NASA) -- $390,000

Since NASA is no longer conducting space flights, they have plenty of time and money to fund a YouTube TV show and cartoon series called "Green Ninja" in which a man dressed in a Green Ninja costume teaches children about global warming.

Read Senator Coburn's "Wastebook"

The "Wastebook" is the work of Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk. He said to CBS News' Nancy Cordes in a recent interview, "Where was the adult in the room when this was going on? … (The report is) a compilation of about $30 billion of stupidity, incompetence, and waste."

By comparison, the compromise budget Congress struck last week cuts the deficit by just $23 billion over 10 years.

Congress has banned "earmarks," those pork barrel special interest projects that were used to grease palms in Washington. But other types of waste have proved tougher to tackle, such as the $3.6 billion in unpaid income taxes from federal employees and retirees -- or the $400 million paid to government workers to do nothing during the government shutdown.

Asked how long he has been putting the book out, Coburn said, "This is the 5th or 6th year."

Cordes asked, "And have you ever gotten any traction in Congress, where members say, 'We're actually going to get rid of this?'"

"No," Coburn said. "They don't pay attention to it. It's hard work to get rid of junk, it's hard work to do oversight, it's hard work to hold the agencies accountable. And so what they would rather do is look good at home, get re-elected, and continue to spend money, and that's Republican and Democrat alike."

Cordes also remarked on the report's characterization of some expenditures. "Some of your examples are kind of in the eye of the beholder, for example you say, all the money spent creating the Obamacare website was a waste, while some Democrats would disagree with that."

Coburn said, "I wouldn't complain about the website if it worked, but it didn't work. It still doesn't work. It's not the level of performance that we should expect from spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get something up – all right, and that's a great subject, one of the things that's not in this "Wastebook" is the federal government spends $82 billion dollars a year, $82 billion on it. Half of it is wasted. All right, half of it!"

On "CBS This Morning," Cordes added that Coburn argues it doesn't really matter whether the priorities laid out in the report are Republican or Democrat. He says the question is, "Can we afford to do things like pay people to 'like' the State Department on Facebook when we're borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars a year?"