It is no secret that Washington D.C. has a spending problem. It is also well known that the federal government continues to add to the national debt, which currently stands just shy of $20 trillion. What might not be as widely known are the specific examples of wasteful spending that are the product of Washington’s spending addiction and contribute to the ballooning debt.
In order to highlight the wasteful and sometimes silly ways in which the federal government agrees to spend taxpayers’ money, today Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released his second edition “Wastebook: Porkémon Go,” in which he identifies $5 billion in questionable federal expenditures. The report is themed after Pokémon Go, the augmented reality mobile game in which players use their phone to hunt and capture digital critters in real world locations. Senator Flake says that just like in the game where the object is to “catch them all,” Congress should attempt to catch and remove all wasteful and ludicrous federal spending from the budget.
Some critics might say that addressing these relatively small wasteful expenditures are not vital to closing the budget gap. However, at the report’s release event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Foundation President and former Senator Jim DeMint applauded Senator Flake’s efforts and rightfully noted, “...If you are not willing to address the smaller things, there is no way you are going to deal with big things, like entitlement spending or built in waste throughout the system.”
Here are just a few of egregious examples of wasteful spending from the Wastebook report:
$1.7 million from the Department of Commerce was granted for the construction of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York. The Center will recreate classic comedy routines using holographic technology.
Three grants totaling $450,000 were issued by the National Science Foundation to determine whether or not dinosaurs could sing or make sounds like birds. The research determined that dinosaurs lacked the syrinx to make songs or roars, but possibility could have made mumbling noises.
The National Institutes of Health granted $5 million to a Brown University researcher to discover some fairly obvious facts about college fraternity and sorority members, such as when compared to other college students, they are more likely to consume alcohol, smoke, and sleep in later. The research also found that students generally drink more on game days and nearly two-thirds of all incoming students have played drinking games.
Over $460,000 was granted by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense to teach computers to predict human actions in given situations. The computers were trained by watching over 600 hours of television shows, like Desperate Housewives and The Office. When tested, the computers accurately predicted the human action less than half the time.
Numerous other examples of mind-boggling federal expenditures that produce no broad benefit to taxpayers are available in the full report.
During Senator Flake’s presentation, he continually emphasized that “the framers never intended for the power of the purse to be the power to distribute pork,” not even under the broadest interpretation of the general welfare clause of the Constitution.
Senator Flake’s report highlights the need for improved oversight of federal spending, especially grants being issued by executive agencies and departments. Taxpayers should be disappointed in such wasteful spending, but should be encouraged that some in Congress are making an effort to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse.
Kicking Washington’s nasty spending habit and addressing the national debt will not happen with one single bill or idea. It will only happen by creating a culture and mentality against wasteful spending. It must be a mindset Congress adopts everyday and one that drives every decision Congress makes. Fortunately, Senator Flake seems to have taken the first steps with this report in promoting that mentality in Congress.