Spending kudzu

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been front and center during the latter days of the sequestration showdown, which is good, because he literally wrote the book on government waste.  He produces a new edition of his “Wastebook” every year, chronicling the most absurd abuses of taxpayer money.  It is wise for Republicans to bring up these horror stories when Obama is racing around the country and insisting that a 2.3 percent reduction in the rate of government growth means we can’t have firefighters or border security.  Coburn’s Wastebook should be every American’s indispensable manual to the “smart spending cuts” that Obama insincerely trumpets, while agitating for higher taxes.

Fellow Wastebook aficionado Jim Geraghty of National Review pointed out today that plenty of this waste can be found at the Pentagon:

For example, the Office of Naval Research???s  Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) program has spent more than $1.5 million to develop a new kind of beef jerky. Really.

With $21,000 from the Pentagon, the 100-Year Starship  organization hosted a September symposium for interstellar discussion.  ???Former Trekkies Levar Burton and Nichelle Nichols made special appearances. The latter headlined an ???intergalactic gala celebration.??? Attendees needed to wear ???starship cocktail attire.??????

Yes, while I???m sure the ideas discussed at the convention were fascinating, your tax dollars basically sponsored a Star Trek convention.

Outside of the Coburn report, we can find that the Pentagon is spending $17,000 for every drip pan used on a Black Hawk helicopter.

The latter is due to good old-fashioned bring-home-the-bacon political influence; comparable pans could be had for less than a sixth of the cost, if the Pentagon was allowed to shop outside of a certain congressional district.

But the other examples, and some more that Geraghty kicks in from a different source, illustrate an interesting point about bloated government spending: it’s like kudzu, the vine that spreads over and infiltrates everything it touches, taking root until it becomes extremely difficult to dislodge.

Our friends at Citizens Against Government Waste point out that the fiscal 2012 appropriations for the Defense Department includes $239 million for cancer research, including studies on breast cancer, $5.1 million for autism research,  and $3.2 million for bone marrow failure disease research. Research for cures for diseases is a wonderful thing, but one wonders why the Department of Defense is funding it, because the Labor/HHS appropriations bill already set aside $5.1 billion for the National Cancer Institute, $69.1 million for research on autism and $23.4 million for research on bone marrow disease .

The Government Accountability Office reports that “tens of billions of dollars” are wasted on duplicate and redundant programs, often spread across agencies that would seem to have little investment in the “problem” at hand, as in these Pentagon examples.  It’s “mission creep” on a colossal scale, and it has the effect of protecting government waste by distributing it between many different agencies… each of which has a constituency that can be portrayed as the victim of prospective cuts.  And as we’re seeing from President Obama’s conduct during the sequestration battle, it’s difficult to target the waste and duplication, because the cuts will be re-directed to hit the most popular or essential services that each agency provides.