Strange Government Spending
Much of the focus throughout the midterm elections and during the early days of the new 112th Congress has been directed toward reining in government spending across the board to bring down our ominous national deficit, which recently passed $14 trillion. But in truth, the perception that our government spends too much money is nothing new, and has persisted during times of both Republican and Democratic leadership.
Back in the early 1980s, several Gallup polls found that Americans believed the government wasted between 40% and 42% of all the money it spent. By 2009, Gallup found the American public had gradually increased its estimate slightly, saying the government wasted a full 50% of the money it spent. Yet the vast majority of government spending has for years been directed toward the same three sectors: national defense, Social Security and health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. As of 2010, these three programs took up more than 60% of the nation’s annual budget.
Part of the reason that many in the public and Congress have appeared increasingly frustrated with government spending in recent years is that there has been a tide of government initiatives with big price tags attached, ranging from the $700 billion stimulus package to the $200 billion worth of bank bailouts. That said, while these recent initiatives were controversial, most were enacted in a state of crisis with the intention of avoiding full-scale disaster.
By comparison, the real government money wasters, as we see them, are more akin to real household money wasters, where someone spends money unnecessarily or dumps too much money into something that provides too little utility in return. So we’ve rounded up a few items from the government’s shopping list in recent years that have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, but have produced questionable returns, if any at all.
Photo Credit: purpleslog
Unused Flight Tickets
If you’ve ever felt like the government was going nowhere fast, here’s your proof: Back in 2004, a Congressional investigation found that the Pentagon wasted as much as $100 million on 64,000 first class tickets on commercial flights that were never actually used or redeemed for a refund. On the bright side, that’s 64,000 opportunities for other passengers to get bumped up at the last minute.
Photo Credit: jareed
Calendars, Calendars and More Calendars
One of the perks of being a member of Congress is that you have access to generous expense accounts funded by the taxpayers, which can total as much as $4 million for some Senators. For all intents and purposes, this money is mainly meant for travel expenses (hopefully not the kind of travel that the Pentagon does), but members of Congress can, of course, use it for all sorts of other things as well.
According to one analysis of Congressional expenditures from 2008, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) expensed $84,000 of personalized calendars to give to his constituents. That is a lot of calendars.
Photo Credit: Joe Lanman
Department of Energy Wastes Too Much Energy
The Department of Energy may be the leading voice to encourage Americans to become more energy efficient, but apparently the agency doesn’t fully practice what it preaches. According to a report from the DOE’s Inspector General released in June 2010, the department could save more than $2.2 million annually by turning off the lights and relying on more energy-efficient technology, rather than continuing to rely on fluorescent light bulbs.
Photo Credit: DieselDemon
This country has no shortage of odd museums, whether it be the National Museum of Funeral History or the Barbed Wire Museum, but even these may have trouble competing with the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, which collects, you guessed it, old neon signs. According to a report put together by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), this museum has received more than $5 million in grants from the federal government. Apparently, there aren’t enough neon signs in Vegas already, so the government felt it was worthwhile to spend millions to highlight the old ones.
Photo Credit: Everyspoon
Too Much Paper
Another point highlighted in Sen. Coburn’s report is that the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year unnecessarily to print paper. In total, according to a study Coburn cites, the government could save up to $440 million each year by relying on digitized documents. The Treasury Department, at least, has taken a step in this direction in shifting away from paper checks for Social Security and tax refunds.
Photo Credit: QuinnDombrowski
22 Bathrooms... in a Forest
Money from the stimulus package has helped fund hundreds of projects across the country since early 2009, many of which undoubtedly helped stimulate local communities and the economy as a whole. But a few of these projects have been a bit controversial.
According to the White House, nearly half a million dollars went to building 22 restrooms in the Mark Twain National Forest. Each one cost $21,000, which the White House described as being “a reasonable cost” for the work done. Those must be some very nice toilets.
Photo Credit: WikiCommons.org
The Bridge to Microsoft
Aside from helping to fund a couple dozen bathrooms, the stimulus money also helped build a bridge between two of Microsoft’s campuses. Initially, some estimated the project would cost $11 million, but according to the White House, it only cost about half of that, just more than $5 million. Because if anyone needs the extra cash, it’s Microsoft.
Photo Credit: Robert Scoble
The Doomed Space Flight
Usually, the worst thing that can happen to a space shuttle is to crash, but in the case of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, crashing was the entire point. In 2009, NASA spent $79 million to launch the satellite and have it crash into the moon, all as part of an elaborate test for ice on the moon. There has to be a better way.
Photo Credit: Matthew Simantov
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