Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Waste for the Sake of Waste - Government Spending in Action

I don't know if it's just me, but other than Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. from Oklahoma, American federal politicians seem to pay very, very little attention to waste in government.  Even the two presidential candidates rarely discuss the specific issue of wasting taxpayers dollars.  Fortunately, Senator Coburn is out there, digging up dirt on foolish government spending in this year's "Waste Book 2012".  Since stupid government spending is one of my biggest pet peeves, let's take a look at a few of the more egregious examples of wasteful Washington spending keeping this in mind:

1.)  The Oxymoron of Not-for-Profit Professional Sports Leagues:  In light of this season's NHL strike, this one seemed particularly timely.  Dr. Coburn notes that three of America's largest professional sports organizations (among others), the NFL, the NHL and the PGA have classified themselves as non-profit organizations.  By doing this, they are exempt from paying federal income taxes on earnings.  Let's single out the NFL.  The NFL describes itself as a "trade association promoting the interests of its 32 member clubs".  In 2010, the NFL received $184 billion from its 32 member teams and holds over $1 billion in assets, generating an estimated $9 billion in annual revenue.  Commissioner Roger Goodell received $11.6 million in salary for 2010 compared to a salary of $3.4 million for the highest paid CEO of a traditional non-profit.  With this data in mind, Dr. Coburn notes that barring major professional sporting league teams from claiming the non-profit tax exempt status would generate an additional $91 million of federal tax revenue annually. 

2.) Pottery Barn Morocco-Style:  In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development stepped up to the plate (sports AND pottery analogy) to improve the economic competitiveness of Morocco by dishing out $27 million to help Moroccans create and design pottery for local and international markets.  Great idea!  Unfortunately, the American potter that was sent over used dyes and clays that are not commonly available in Morocco making it very difficult for the Moroccan participants to follow up the instruction with actual pottery production.  On top of that, the translator provided for the American instructor was not fluent in English making it impossible for the estimated 10 potters that attended the class on a regular basis to follow along.  The Inspector General found that the project "was not on track to achieve its goals".  Understatement of the year.

3.) Attack of the Killer Robot Squirrels:  Scientists at the San Diego State University and the University of California were the beneficiaries of a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to  Nothing wrong with that, is there?  What was studied?  The interaction between squirrels and rattlesnakes, what else?  A portion of the grant was proudly spent to construct a robotic squirrel as shown on this video:

Cool eh?  Robosquirrel is even wired so that its body heat signature looks real to the rattlesnake.  Fortunately for taxpayers, the rattlesnake was fooled into attacking the robosquirrel.  The moral of the story; rattlers are not that clever.  Neither are those who decide where NSF grants are allocated, especially considering that they have been funded to the tune of $7.4 billion for fiscal 2013.

Last but not least we have:

4.) Pizza on Mars:  While NASA no longer has any way of getting man, woman, dog or chimp into space, no one can accuse this group of elite scientists of sitting on their duffs.  Apparently, NASA awarded $947,000 of your money to Cornell University and the University of Hawaii where researchers are studying the best food for astronauts to eat while they are living the high life on the surface of our nearest planetary neighbour.  Six volunteers will spend 120 days on the lifeless surface of Hawaii, living life as though they were 140 million miles away from home.  These lucky folks will consume only instant foods and other foods that are prepared from shelf stable ingredients selected from over 100 options and will then rate them.  Here is a link to the crew bios in case you care.

That's enough.  I think that you've got the idea.

Although most of these expenditures seem rather small when compared to overall annual projected spending of $3.796 trillion in fiscal 2012, in these times of extreme debt and a series of four trillion dollar plus deficits in a row, Washington has to start trimming the fat somewhere.  Unfortunately, those that stand for election time and time again seem more interested in their increasingly polarized political viewpoints than they do in changing how Washington "works".

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