The Washington Times
December 11, 2015
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Americans believe that more than half of all federal spending is waste, according to Gallup–51 cents out of every dollar to be specific. This is one of those points on which so-called experts can marshal all kinds of figures to show that ordinary Americans are wildly off-base–and the experts will be stupider for it.
Americans have the good sense to recognize that bureaucracies–big, dead weights of incompetence which get more money the more things they propose to control–will almost inevitably spend most of their time and most of our money on activities that are either useless or flat-out harmful. In many cases, we’d be better off not if the programs just operated more efficiently, but if they didn’t exist at all.
For the past five years, Senator Tom Coburn did a great service to taxpayers by publishing his annual Wastebook, a catalog of many of the most outrageous examples of government waste. When he retired at the end of last year, it seemed impossible to replace his vigilant and humorous defense of taxpayers’ money.
Thankfully, the task has been taken up by Senator Jeff Flake, who has published the 2015 edition of the Wastebook, 290 pages detailing extravagantly dumb government spending. The 100 examples in this year’s collection would be hilarious if they weren’t so outrageous, and if the savings of ordinary Americans weren’t the funds being wasted.
Examples in this year’s wastebook include:
- $2.1 million from USAID to promote “rural tourism” in Lebanon, a country that the State Department currently warns Americans not to travel to for any reason, nonetheless for vacation. The State Department advisory cites terrorism (including ISIS fighters) as one major concern. Needless to say, this is not a place where taxpayers should be promoting jaunts through the countryside featuring “rock climbing” and “eco-tourism”.
- $5 million spent by the National Institutes of Health on parties at “bars and nightclubs” devoted to convincing hipsters not to smoke cigarettes. Hipsters, like everyone else in the world, already know that smoking is bad for your health, the program’s inventors acknowledge, so instead the anti-smoking campaign is framed as a stand for “self-expression and social justice.” That, and they give the hipsters cash to show up.
- $104 million spent by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s low income housing program to support families who were not, in fact, low-income. The HUD Inspector General, quoted in Senator Flake’s Wastebook, found that “HUD will pay $104.4 million over the next year for public housing units occupied by over-income families that otherwise could have been used to house low-income families.” In hundreds of cases, the households receiving public assistance exceeded the required income level by $50,000 or more.
- $43 million spent by the Department of Defense to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan, a project that should have cost roughly $500,000. Or more accurately, it should never have been built at all, since few cars in Afghanistan run on CNG and there is no infrastructure for distributing it. The Pentagon says it simply has no idea where the other $42 million went. The Department has literally no defense.
These are just a few of the dozens of items included in this year’s Wastebook, which themselves add up to only a tiny fraction of the waste that occurs in the federal government. Each of these examples should be a scandal in its own right. And yet not one of them makes a dent in the public debate, not even a gas station that costs 80 times what it should
Read Senator Flake’s wastebook and ask yourself: if our federal bureaucracy is so sick it can produce all of these examples and more in a single year, isn’t it time to get serious about fixing it?