Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has released this year’s edition of his annual report on wasteful spending in the federal government. The report, which has become a hit in Washington, D.C., and beyond, identifies a broad range of taxpayer funded projects that many Americans will find bizarre.
“Congress’ role is not just passing bills,” said Coburn. “It is also responsible for conducting oversight to hold the executive branch accountable, which it is failing to do. In fact, Congress actually forced federal agencies to waste billions of dollars for purely parochial, political purposes.”
The 2014 Wastebook is the fifth such report released annually by Coburn to highlight frivolous and outrageous spending by the federal government.
In this latest iteration, Coburn points to spending $335,000 on building speed humps in Portland, Maine as an example of government waste.
“[A] national study found Maine to have the ninth-worst track record in the nation for repairing deficient bridges, nearly one million people drive on Maine’s crumbling bridges every day. But instead of fixing the Pine Tree State’s crumbling bridges and roads, federal funds will help install “speed humps” to slow traffic in two Portland neighborhoods.”
The $335,000 was spent in two Portland neighborhoods; Rosemont and Libbytown. The money was used to slow traffic in the area by creating speed humps and mini traffic circles.
The money was drawn from a $1.5 million Economic Development Administration grant for the purpose of redeveloping Thompson’s Point, as well as$90,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Several Portland resident’s complain that the new construction has had any significant impact on traffic speed in the area.
“When they get to the speed bump, they slow down,” said Portland resident Norm Reef, according to the Wastebook. “As soon as they get over the bump, bingo, they take off again. … I question how much good it’s going to do for the investment they’re going to make.”
Still, Portland’s ill-fated foray into “traffic calming” was not the most ridiculous expenditure of federal money noted in Coburn’s book. Below are five of the most outlandish wastes outlined in the Wastebook.
1. Swedish Massages for Rascally Rabbits
The National Institutes of Health paid for a study to show whether massages have any impact on recovery after workouts. How did they test this? By forcing rabbits to exercise, and then building a machine to give them Swedish massages after. Seriously.
2. NASA’s Tower of Pork
In Mississippi, Republicans have passed an earmark to set aside funds to build a 300-foot tower to test rocket engines. However, President Obama cancelled the space program that would have used the tower in 2010. That didn’t stop one Republican from introducing an earmark that same year to require NASA to continue and finish construction. In addition to building the tower, NASA now has to pay over $800,000 a year in maintenance.
Cost: $44.5 million
2. Teaching Monkey’s to Gamble
In yet another example, the National Science Foundation paid to watch monkey’s gamble. The monkeys were forced to play simplistic gambling games for hour on end as researchers recorded their behavior. Researchers claimed that the study could unlock the secret to free will. Don’t hold your breath.
2. Mountain Lions on a Treadmill
In this project funded by the National Science Foundation, researchers trained three captive mountain lions to use treadmills. It took eight months to train the big cats to use the treadmills, which gave us important findings such as “mountain lions do not have the aerobic capacity for sustained, high-energy activity.” The National Science Foundation also spent money tracking wild mountain lions and promoting their research.
5. Synchronized Swimming for Sea Monkeys
In this bizarre example, three government agencies paid to use lasers to make sea monkeys swim in a synchronized fashion. The purpose of this study was to see how sea monkeys, which are small brine shrimp, affect ocean circulation. Some are, understandably, skeptical of the effect that these tiny creatures could have on massive ocean currents. Still, this didn’t stop the federal government from footing the bill.
Unfortunately, this will be the last Wastebook produced by Coburn, as he is resigning at the end of the year for medical reasons.