Tax Dollars at Work: Mountain Lions on Treadmills

Coburn’s Wastebook highlights $25 billion in wasteful spending

Photo credit of Nancy Howard, Colorado Parks & Wildlife via
October 22, 2014

Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) released his final Wastebook on Wednesday, and it did not disappoint.

Dr. Coburn, who is retiring after this term, chronicled $25 billion spent on 100 "silly, unnecessary, and low priority projects," this year. The report touches nearly every agency, finding that the federal government is still spending taxpayer dollars to put animals on treadmills and subsidize wine.

"Washington politicians are more focused on their own political futures than the future of our country," Coburn writes in the introduction of the fifth-annual Wastebook. "And with no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem again isn’t just what Washington isn’t doing, but what it is doing."

The 182-page report documents waste big and small, from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to produce and distribute "chile-infused" wine, to $48.6 million spent on thousands of vehicles that sit idly in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) parking lots.

The report included numerous examples of waste at the National Science Foundation (NSF), including a $331,000 study that found spouses stab voodoo dolls more often when they’re "hangry"—that is, hungry and angry at the same time.

"Over the course of twenty-one consecutive evenings, 107 couples were given a chance to stick up to 51 pins into a voodoo doll representing their spouse," the report explained of the government-funded study.

The results: "Hungry people are cranky and aggressive," the lead researcher said.

The NSF also financed synchronized swimming for sea monkeys at a cost of $50,000; a $41,000 study for how Penn State can boost morale after the Jerry Sandusky scandal; and a $171,361 project that studied the gambling habits of monkeys.

The government is also still interested in the theater, doling out grants through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support a play about Bruce Lee ($70,000), and a "marijuana themed musical" in Colorado ($15,000).

The NEA also awarded $10,000 to produce a musical about a young zombie searching for true love, and another $10,000 for a play about two lesbians who think they are Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt.

"The National Science Foundation (NSF) taught monkeys how to play video games and gamble," Coburn wrote. "USDA got into the business of butterfly farming. The Department of Interior even paid people to watch grass to see how quickly it grows. The State Department spent money to dispel the perception abroad that Americans are fat and rude."

"But the real shock and awe may have been the $1 billion price tag the Pentagon paid to destroy $16 billion worth of ammunition, enough to pay a full years’ salary for over 54,000 Army privates," he said.

After already putting monkeys, rats, cows, and goats on treadmills for past research, the NSF decided to test mountain lions skills at a cost of $856,000.

After eight months of training the mountain lions were able to walk on treadmills, though the research concluded that they "do not have the aerobic capacity for sustained high-energy activity."

Waste was also found in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, including $1,552,145 to create a video game that teaches parents how to feed their kids vegetables. Another $371,026 project investigates if mothers have a different emotional reaction to pictures of their dogs over pictures of their children by monitoring their brains.

Wastebook also highlighted a Washington Free Beacon story on an NIH study that is texting drunks to tell them to stop drinking.

"Btw, don’t have 2 much 2 drink," offered Coburn as an example.

Other Free Beacon reports cited in Wastebook included a $202,000 NSF study on why Wikipedia is sexist, the Justice Department spending $544,338 to enhance its company profile on LinkedIn, and $450,000 for state of the art gym memberships for desk workers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The report included some literal examples of government waste, such as a $50,000 USDA grant to process, package, and market "Poop Paks," plant fertilizer made from Alpaca manure.

A housing authority in California also received $27 million despite the deplorable living conditions of its units, which were found to be full of bed bugs, "handfuls of half-dead mice," "drug dealers," and "blue and green mold."

"I just got tired of the poop falling on me," the report quoted a tenant of the Hacienda as saying.

Coburn attempted to submit an amendment that would revoke funding for any housing authority that persisted in maintaining uninhabitable conditions, but Senate Democrats blocked it.

Coburn did highlight some victories at curbing waste, such as the "Bridge to Nowhere" never being built due to public outrage, the shutdown of an unused Oklahoma airport that received $500,000 in subsidies each year, and the closing of a taxpayer-funded global warming musical.

"What I have learned from these experiences is Washington will never change itself," Coburn said. "But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word."

Coburn has unearthed $91 billion in government waste since Wastebook began in 2010. The future of the project will not be known until next year, according to Keith Ashdown, chief investigator for Coburn on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

"While Coburn hopes every member of Congress will start making waste watching part of their job, it is hard work and not very rewarding," he told the Free Beacon. "He says answers to how Wastebook will continue and in what format will have to wait to next year, but notes it doesn’t require a sitting member of Congress to identify waste."

"In fact, sometimes they are ones least able to do so since they are responsible for it to begin with," Ashdown said.