‘Wastebook 2013’ Lists The Most Awful Government Spending

The Brussels’ home of the U.S. Ambassador to NATO received $704,198 in gardening and landscaping services. The purchase included, “960 violas, 960 tulips, 960 begonias, 72 Japanese evergreen shrubs, 504 ivy geraniums, 168 hybrid heath evergreen shrubs, 204 American wintergreens, and 60 English ivy shrubs.” Obviously, this was prioritized over legitimate overseas projects like enhancing the security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans lost their lives.


By Rachel Alexander | March 24, 2014


Brussels home of U.S. Ambassador to NATOAttack on U.S. Consulate Benghazi, Libya

Every year, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) issues an annual oversight report featuring the top 100 ways the government wastes money. Wastebook 2013” lists nearly $30 billion of taxpayers’ money that was squandered last year. Considering it is capped at 100 items; there may be hundreds or even thousands more instances of wasteful government spending. Coburn artfully juxtaposes the pork projects against cuts the federal government is making to legitimate spending like the military and historic sites.

He observes that if the 100 wasteful projects had been eliminated, almost a third of last year’s sequester cuts wouldn’t have been necessary. When Congress failed to pass an appropriations bill last year, arbitrary cuts were made when the government ran out of money, and federal employees were paid to sit at home for 16 days. Furloughed non-essential federal employees were paid a total of $2 billion to not work.

Although Coburn doesn’t expound on it, much of the wasteful spending was likely the result of members of Congress giving away freebies to organizations run by their cronies, or deals they’d made with contributors to their campaigns.

Arguably, the most outrageous example of wasteful spending is funding the Denali Commission. Mike Marsh, the commission’s Inspector General, asked Congress to eliminate the agency after having served on it for over 10 years – effectively asking to be fired. The Washington Post ran a front-page story about it entitled, “Fire Me.” Marsh revealed that the agency wasn’t working; money that was being funneled to rural Alaska for development was being wasted, since the rural bush communities could not sustain the financial investments. He suggested that Alaska state agencies, not the federal government, were better equipped to oversee Alaska’s rural areas. His request was ignored, and no hearings were ever held to examine the agency nor question its spending. The agency continues to receive millions of dollars in funding every year.

Perhaps the second most egregious waste of money listed in Coburn’s report relates to Hurricane Sandy. Money designated for Hurricane Sandy victims was spent on tourism ads instead. By October 2013, only one victim on Staten Island had received any assistance, in the form of housing aid. Instead, the state of New York is spending $140 million on advertising to attract tourists, called “New York State Open for Business,” and New Jersey will spend up to $25 million on its own Jersey Shore promotion.

Over $60 million was spent advertising the Obamacare website, which was wasted when the website failed to work. Coburn sarcastically notes that at least one dog, Baxter, was able to enroll successfully.

The Brussels’ home of the U.S. Ambassador to NATO received $704,198 in gardening and landscaping services. The purchase included, “960 violas, 960 tulips, 960 begonias, 72 Japanese evergreen shrubs, 504 ivy geraniums, 168 hybrid heath evergreen shrubs, 204 American wintergreens, and 60 English ivy shrubs.” Obviously, this was prioritized over legitimate overseas projects like enhancing the security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans lost their lives.

Even though prostitution is illegal almost everywhere in the U.S., IRS tax regulations allow brothels to take significant deductions. Workers are permitted to deduct the cost of groceries, rent, utilities, taxes, licensing, breast implants, costumes, and promotions, including “free passes.” A total of $17.5 million was taken in tax deductions by the U.S. prostitution industry last year, even though many other legitimate professions are not permitted to take anywhere near that level of tax breaks.

Quite a few of the projects dealt with studying human behavior, including sleep and stress. There is also plenty of wasteful spending by the military and agencies like NASA. The State Department spent $630,000 to increase its Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers. Terrorist Nadal Hasan has collected over $278,000 in salary and benefits since he murdered 13 people and wounded another 32 in an attack on Fort Hood, Texas. This is because the Military Code of Justice doesn’t allow a soldier to be suspended until they are found guilty. Meanwhile, his victims “have had to fight the Defense Department tooth and nail to receive benefits;” one of the injured veterans was forced to live off of Top Ramen instant noodles for weeks on end.

Whistleblowers revealed that there is a “pervasive” fraud problem within the Department of Homeland Security of employees abusing overtime. The Office of Special Counsel found nearly $9 million in improper overtime claims.

The National Endowment for the Humanities gave a grant of nearly $1 million to The Popular Romance Project to promote romance novels. This subsidy is outrageous considering the romance novel industry makes over $1 billion a year.

Not to be outdone with the entertainment handouts, the International Trade Administration gave away $284,300 to the American Association of Independent Music. Indie music execs, who represent “an alternative form of rock that resists the commercial influences of big money,” flew around the world on exotic trips checking out the music scenes. Coburn ironically observes that the aging hippies once resisted all things cultural.

Another competitor for entertainment spending, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shoveled out $195,000 on a lavish party for Hollywood just five days before the government shutdown.

Having not learned anything from the massive foreclosure crisis that began in 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing guaranteed home loans to the wealthy. Nearly 166,000 home loan guarantees were issued last year, and more than 100 of them were for half a million dollar or more priced homes, mostly located in Hawaii. At the same time, assistance for the needy and elderly was cut. The Department ended assistance to many borrowers last year, which included a housing unit for disabled elderly in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Several projects funded alcoholic drinks, including 35 different wine initiatives from the USDA alone. Over $415,000 was spent promoting U.S. wines in China, and $200,000 was awarded to a winery in Oklahoma to buy new equipment. The USDA gave Alaskan Brewery Company $450,000 to install a new environmentally friendly boiler, even though it is the 12th best-selling craft brewery in the nation.

It is distressing that Coburn has been issuing this report annually for the past four years, yet the wasteful, unaffordable spending hasn’t stopped. Members of Congress are so entrenched and corrupt they will not stop the unethical handouts, even when publicly exposed. Additional steps will need to be taken to trace the handouts back to individual members of Congress and expose the quid pro quos. When they run for reelection, it should be used to defeat them.


Rachel Alexander is the founder of the Intellectual Conservative and an attorney. Ms. Alexander is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.