Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week: $1 Million for Spray-Paint Simulator

A quick perusal of Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual pork book will unearth many universities benefiting from the pork-addicted culture that plagues Washington. The reason for this, says former Congressmen Dick Armey, is that “universities oftentimes do research that the public doesn’t value enough for it to be self-funding, so they turn to the government.” In the end, these bountiful gifts are “nothing but pork that’s costing the taxpayer and contributes little to the scientific world.”

Take for example, Pine Technical College, a vocational school in rural Pine City, Minnesota which received one million dollars from the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2863) for a Virtual Reality Spray Paint Simulator System. According to CNET News, credit for this outrageous earmark belongs to Representative James Oberstar (D.-Minn.), “the longest serving Congressman in Minnesota’s history.”

The spray-paint simulator uses a computer-connected gun to spray paint on a screen “in a manner akin to Adobe Photoshop’s airbrush tool.” According to the college’s website, local businessmen hope to use the simulator for training painters. Its relation to defense and the military, though, remains a mystery.

John Heckman, director of Pine Technical College’s Johnson Center for Virtual Reality, defended the earmark, saying that “virtual reality spray paint training is not a boondoggle but rather an effective nonpolluting way to quickly learn an essential set of production skills at far lower cost than previously. It is a wise investment of public resources.”

Of all the possible ways this country decides to spend money for defense and military purposes, the best thing our leaders in Congress could think of was to write a million-dollar check for a virtual reality spray painter? I have seen a lot of outrageous pork in my day and just as many outrageous attempts to defend earmarks, but this one definitely tops the list. What would our soldiers say if they knew what was going on? Would Representative Oberstar be willing to stand up to our hardworking soldiers and explain why they the federal government is squandering money rightly owed to them? I don’t think so.