What a waste

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has released his annual “Wastebook,” giving us all a window into the positively absurd ways in which the federal government spends the hard-earned tax dollars we give it.

Like former Sen. William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece award, which he presented between 1977 and 1985, the “Wastebook” highlights spending that would cause side-splitting laughter, if it weren’t for the fact that we taxpayers are paying for it. Most of them are penny-ante amounts in the massive federal budget, but they show how a lack of fiscal discipline can add up.

Coburn’s list included 100 items of federal spending totaling $30 billion. Here is just a (bad) taste:

$125,000 from NASA to Arjun Contractor, for a 3-D pizza printer. Yes. A 3-D pizza printer that could be part of space-exploration mission supplies. NASA warns, however, the research could take years before the technology becomes feasible.

$17.5 million in tax exemptions from the IRS for brothels in Nevada. Coburn says the exemptions were for everything from breast implants to “free passes” deemed part of promotional costs.

$297 million from the Army for a “mega-blimp.” After $300 million and three years in development, the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle project was halted and sold back to the contractor for only $301,000. It had managed only one 90-minute flight over New Jersey.

$360,000 from NASA to 20 “pillownauts.” These folks will spend 70 days lying in bed, tilted slightly downward, but free to play video games and watch TV, and be paid $18,000 each. NASA says the downtime will help in research on weightlessness.

The list goes on and on – millions of dollars worth of weapons and military vehicles and equipment in the Middle East will be destroyed rather than shipped home; $65 million in “emergency funds” for Hurricane Sandy spent on ads to promote tourism in the affected area; and so on. While it may lead to a few shakes of the head and bewildered smiles, the Wastebook should also lead to some serious questions for those handing out, for example, $10,000 so a group of linemen and electrical technicians can choreograph a line dance with bucket trucks, cranes and field trucks, and a set of 20 utility poles, before a live audience.