The 2014 "Wastebook" Of Weird Government-Funded Projects, Ranked From "Well, OK" To "Wha?"
With midterm elections only weeks away, one senator's infamous annual report could influence what kind of Congress Americans will elect on Nov. 4. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's 2014 Wastebook lays bare the government's wasteful spending by ranking the top 100 most frivolous projects of each year that either used borrowed money or our taxpayer dollars, totaling in the billions. Sen. Coburn's report is especially alarming set against a Congress that is widely considered to be the least productive in modern history, having passed fewer laws than any other Congress.
Coburn, a Republican and fiscal conservative, has been an avid opponent of the government's deficit spending and pork barrel projects, which benefit specific representative's districts and help them secure future votes. Five years ago, Coburn decided to document the most outrageous examples of pork barrel spending and larger government projects that, to most people, seem unnecessary and frivolous. If the public is privy to these projects and how much money is being poured into them, then perhaps Washington will change, Coburn hopes.
Coburn told CBS News' Nancy Cordes:
We should be ashamed that we're wasting money the way that we are. So if we're watching and we're holding people accountable, we'll get better value for the taxes that we pay and we won't risk the future of our kids.
Besides publishing the top examples of government waste each year, Coburn also uses Wastebook as a sort of watchdog group to prevent wasteful spending before it happens. For example, he writes, the day after he and his team inquired about a life-size inflatable foosball game the State Department purchased, the order was canceled. Coburn also offers a page on his website for whistleblowers to submit tips about wasteful federal spending.
So just where is our hard-earned tax money going? Here are some of the weirdest examples from Coburn's 2014 Wastebook. Before you read them, however, Coburn asks you to consider:
Is each of these a true national priority or could the money have been better spent on a more urgent need or not spent at all in order to reduce the burden of debt being left to be paid off by our children and grandchildren?
(The answer should be pretty clear.)
5. Swedish Massages For Rascally Rabbits, $387,000
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health funded $387,000 to a two-year project in which rabbits were subjected to exercise and then given Swedish massages afterward to study the impact they had on muscle recovery. Coburn notes that while the rabbits may have been living the life during the study, they were all euthanized after it concluded.
4. Pentagon to Spend $1 Billion to Destroy $16 Billion in Unneeded Ammunition, $1 Billion
One of the most shocking examples in Coburn's Wastebook is the Pentagon's wasting of money to destroy wasted ammunition. According to Coburn, the amount of surplus ammunition has grown to about $16 billion, which could pay the annual salaries of more than 54,000 Army privates.
In fact, the amount of unneeded ammunition now makes up about 40 percent of the Army's total inventory. But not only have we wasted money acquiring the equipment, it's going to cost us $1 billion to destroy it. Even worse? According to a Government Accountability Office report, the Pentagon might be destroying some ammunition that can still be used. It's like a cycle of waste.
3. Mountain Lions on a Treadmill, $856,000
It seems that the government loves funding studies that force animals to work out. Similar to the National Science Foundation-funded shrimp treadmill of 2011, the NSF provided $856,000 to this study that examined the "power of the pounce" in mountain lions. The study required the mountain lions to walk and run on treadmills to measure their oxygen consumption.
In conclusion, Coburn suggests that perhaps instead of wild cats, taxpayer dollars can be spent on "emerging biological threats that could pounce on anyone of us."
2. Scientists Hope Gambling Monkeys Unlock Secrets of Free Will, $171,000
In order to better understand the psychological phenomenon in humans known as "hot-hand bias," the belief that winning streaks exist, the NSF funded a study that examined this behavior in monkeys. For the ongoing experiment, scientists created a video game that was so entertaining to monkeys that they were willing to play it for hours. It was concluded that monkeys do indeed also have "hot-hand bias."
The purpose of the study is to better inform treatment for gambling addiction. But why do we need to confirm that monkeys also have gambling problems in order to treat humans?
1. Synchronized Swimming For Sea Monkeys, $307,524
Like grade-school children fascinated by these novelty pets, which are nothing more than brine shrimp, three government agencies funded a study testing the theory that you can train sea monkeys to do anything. How? By getting them to star in a choreographed, synchronized, laser-guided dance show ... seriously. But it wasn't just for theater — researchers concluded that "the collective swimming motion of Sea-Monkeys and other zoo plankton — swimming plankton — can generate enough swirling flow to potentially influence the circulation of water in oceans." But, Coburn points out, you can buy your own kit and conduct your own sea monkey experiment for as little as $2.
Images: Getty Images (4), Wikipedia Commons (1), Flickr/Jessica Lucia