It’s that magical time of the year when Santa slips down the chimney to put presents under the tree, and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) releases his annual Wastebook, to show you how much the dark elves of government have been pulling right back up the chimney during the rest of the year.
Wastebook 2013 kicks off with something the American people aren’t nearly outraged enough about: $400 million spent to pay six-figure “non-essential” government employees to take a nice paid vacation during the “shutdown” drama. Coburn doesn’t blame the civil servants themselves: “Like everyone else, they have bills to pay. But it is truly unfair to charge billions of dollars to pay others not to work to taxpayers working to cover their own bills and the bills of the government. This is especially true when the non-essential federal employee is being compensated more than twice the average U.S. family income of $51,000.”
The Wastebook invites us to ask the larger question of why the government has so many “non-essential” employees to begin with. Granted that the designation covers a lot of people who do important work, it’s painfully obvious that it also covers a lot of people who don’t. A lot of people earning very large salaries went home for a couple of weeks without any perceptible cost to the society that pays them, which is why the Administration had to indulge in the manufactured histrionics of Shutdown Theater, to keep taxpayers from getting the dangerous idea that maybe the “shutdown” was more of a good first step to government reform than an existential crisis.
And what does it say about our increasingly submissive, exhausted society that we’ve all be making do with less throughout years of Obama malaise – remember all the media stories about the joys of “funemployment” and “staycations” – but the highest-paid nonessential employees of the imperial government cannot be asked to make the smallest sacrifice? We’re supposed to sit quietly and accept a collapsing workforce, but God forbid Washington should be asked to part with a few non-essential employees. It’s even more galling when you look at the smoking ruins of the health-care debacle that should have been defunded, instead of Democrats shutting down the government until they got their way.
Not to be outdone, NASA blew $360,000 on a study of people who were literally doing nothing, lying in bed for 70 days with their feet slightly elevated to “learn how an astronaut’s body will change in weightlessness during space flight in the future.” What astronauts? This is one of the many expensive projects NASA is undertaking for a “mission to Mars” that has already been scrubbed. They also blew six figures on a contract to create 3D-printed pizza.
Our gigantic, largely non-essential central government kept itself in high style again last year, with over $700,000 spent on landscaping at the Brussels residence of the US ambassador to NATO (by the same State Department that claimed it didn’t have enough money to provide proper security in Benghazi), plus lifestyle coaching for Senate staffers, studies to help agencies like NASA lobby Congress for money more effectively, phony Facebook “likes” to make the State Department seem more popular, $5 million in custom crystal glassware for State (also clearly more important that security in Benghazi), and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on oil paintings of top Administration officials.
There are the usual “humanities” boondoggles, such as a million-dollar study of romance novels – with detours into the lengthy deconstruction of forgettable pop tunes, and the love lives of fictional characters – a junket for rock music executives, a lavish party for Hollywood executives, a museum exhibit of board games, a doll and toy museum, a choreographed dance production staged on telephone poles, an all-moose musical revue, and a documentary about comic book superheroes (as if the private sector hasn’t been producing enough of those lately!)
Wastebook 2013 also chronicles the creation of the government’s own ultra-lame superhero, the “Green Ninja” of NASA, whose mission is to become the new Smokey the Bear and teach school children to take “climate change” seriously. Granted, that’s a job that requires super powers these days, especially if the school children in question are capable of reading the news. The Green Ninja’s insultingly stupid propaganda campaign against “the Carbon Ninja, Plastic Man, Coal Man, and Junky Corporate Man” doesn’t seem to have gone over well, perhaps because the product of this $390,000 exercise in socialist indoctrination wound up looking like this:
I ask again: what astronauts?
Wastebook 2013 pays tribute to such government engineering triumphs as airport solar panels that had to be covered with tarps because they were blinding pilots, a $120 million parking garage that’s been under construction for over 16 years, an $8 million transportation center that’s been under construction for 15 years, a million-dollar bus stop with “a roof that hardly protects from the rain, snow, wind, or blazing sun,” a $3 million airport in Minnesota that only supports one bi-weekly flight to Phoenix, the Air Force’s oddly stubborn insistence on trying to put a “megablimp” in the skies of Afghanistan for battlefield surveillance, and all sorts of redundant or nonfunctional IT projects… including, of course, the crown jewel of high-tech incompetence and waste, Healthcare.gov, the $637 million website that couldn’t pass a single stress test, but was launched anyway. And yes, they’re still pouring millions of dollars a year into the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.
There’s lots of pork – much of it sugar-coated – and outright fraud packed into the Wastebook, too. A point Coburn makes every year when he releases this compendium is that it’s ridiculous for the government to demand more money from taxpayers, while simultaneously insisting that not a dime of spending can be cut, when it’s not hard to find over $30 billion a year in pure wasteful insanity. The culture of negligence created by the combination of effectively unlimited, perpetually growing funding and absolute zero accountability is pervasive and destructive. Nobody’s pinching pennies when they know Uncle Sam has three hundred grand in pocket change to blow on a study of duck penises. But at the first whiff of deficit reduction, money-no-object Washington pivots to anguished howls that every agency is underfunded, and unless we’re ready to tackle that deficit with fat tax increases, we’d better start picking out cops and firemen to sack.
Almost every politician talks about waste, fraud, and abuse, including most of the Big Government liberals who enable and defend it. But rarely does anyone do anything about it. Practically every dollar of wasteful spending is protected by those who love it far more than a reformer disdains it. One also gets the suspicion that most of the political class, including the bulk of Republicans, love being able to stick pins in the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse voodoo doll to impress the voters with how serious and reform-minded they are. Why do anything that would actually resolve an issue that can be run against so successfully, year after year?
The first key vote in the Senate on the Murray-Ryan budget deal passed the Senate on Tuesday with 12 Republican votes. It begins the process of dismantling the one and only successful fiscal restraint in living memory, the sequester, replacing it with revenue enhancement measures. Senator Coburn voted “nay.” The smart money says he’ll find even more nonsense to put into Wastebook 2014.