Wastebook 2011: Attack of the Taxpayer-Financed Robot Dragons

Every year, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) puts out a new edition of his “Wastebook,” which chronicles the most egregious wastes of taxpayer money by a titanic government that constantly insists it needs more tax revenue.  This year, as Coburn chronicles, Washington blew piles of money on “robot dragons, video games, Christmas trees, snow cone machines, and chocolate.”

Over the past 12 months, Washington politicians argued, debated and lamented about how to reign in the federal government‘s out of control spending.  All the while, Washington was on a shopping binge, spending money we do not have on things we do not need, like the $6.9 billion worth of examples provided in this report.  The result: Instead of cutting wasteful spending, nearly $2.5 billion was added each day in 2011 to our national debt, which now exceeds $15 trillion. 

Congress deadlocked over whether or not savings could be found by closing loopholes within the complex tax code.  Meanwhile, the IRS approved roughly $1 billion in tax credits intended for energy efficiency home improvements to individuals who did not even own a house.  These recipients included prisoners and children, some probably not even old enough to own a doll house. 

While Congress bickered over whether or not the salaries of federal employees should be frozen, the federal government paid $120 million to federal employees who were deceased.

There’s so much more, including a $30 million USAID project to promote Pakistani mango growth, which ended up delivering equipment to only one farmer, who couldn’t make it work because of a design flaw.  Meanwhile, other Pakistani mango farmers are threatened with default on loans they took out when USAID was promising them big sales growth.  American taxpayers may wonder why they’re being forced to spend thirty million bucks on Pakistani mango farmers in the first place. 

If you live in Washington, D.C., you can ponder this in a pancake restaurant built in a tony neighborhood with $800,000 of taxpayer subsidies.  They should serve Pakistani mango pancakes.  If you’re in Texas, be sure to drop by the drug-themed pizza restaurant that got half a million dollars of your money.

Of course, you’ve got plenty of “green” boondoggles, including wind turbines that don’t work, energy efficiency tax credits for 3-year-old “homeowners,” millions spent by the U.S. Forest Service to promote forest management in other countries, an attempt to “create jobs” by taking a census of trees in Nevada, and a study to convince politicians that supporting “green” positions won’t cost them too many votes.

There were expensive studies of everything from online dating and Jordanian hookah smoking, to the feces-throwing habits of chimpanzees and the risky sexual urges of cocaine-addicted quail.  Dead people, projects, and programs continued to draw huge amounts of money.  Museums for everything from skiing to videogames were constructed.  Of course, the solons of Washington sprayed subsidies all over the place, including $200 million directed to profitable industries that were already earning billions on their own.

What about those dragon robots?   Well, they cost you $130,987, and they’ll be used to study “how robots can help preschoolers learn language skills,” a task formerly left to outmoded, failure-prone biological units known as “parents.”  They’ll be good at nodding and eye-gazing.  Someday, a future man or woman of prominence will begin their autobiography with “I was raised by robot dragons,” and it will be the greatest opening line since “Call me Ishmael.”

As for the snow cone machines, well, they were purchased by the Department of Homeland Security, of course.  They’ll be used for “treating heat exhaustion and other illnesses during large events, including possible terrorist incidents or similar emergencies” in Michigan.  That sounds like a great way to bring down the panic level when car bombs are popping off across Grand Rapids.  (Of course the terrorists are going to attack during the summer.  Who the hell goes to Michigan during the winter?)  Speaking for myself, I know that my first move during a terrorist attack will be a dive for the snow cone machine.  I’m not letting those murderous thugs have the blueberry flavoring without a fight.

Every politician, on both sides of the aisle, loves to talk about how they’ll save money by cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse.  Senator Coburn does us a great service by providing a lively annual reminder that it never actually happens.