For quickie summaries of the annual book of government waste by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., there’s nothing like his Twitter feed #SequesterThis.
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Where else could you go to learn the Department of Defense spent $5.2 million for a study of how fish view democracy. Crazy? how about $1 million the federal government spent on a prom video game and pet shampoo? An El Dorado County economic advisory group wants to go after government grants. They should get advice from San Diego, which snagged a $10,000 grant for trolley dancing. Or ask West Virginia how it got $3,700 to build a miniature street out of Legos.
Many in California may think state workers are overpaid, but only the U.S. Department of Labor pays $81,000 annually for a phone answering person. You may have heard President Obama say he was freezing hiring. That’s all talk. The federal government has posted 2,126 new jobs just since March 1. And the Department of Agriculture is paying $25,000 for the Watermelon Queen’s tour. Coburn points out that the Department of Agriculture has one employee for every eight farmers. It should be noted, however, that USDA includes the Forest Service and its 34,000 employees. The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times calculate the ratio of farmers to USDA employees is 1:17.6 when the Forest Service is excluded. That’s still too many employees.
If the USDA’s phone answerer wants to make the really big bucks that person could learn calligraphy. Three White House calligraphers are paid a total of $277,050 annually. Couldn’t the White House get a computer program to do that? Send the calligraphers to Morocco to oversee our government’s $27 million in pottery classes in that country. The calligraphers could make nice pottery class diplomas.
Maybe the Department of Agriculture could send the Watermelon Queen to India to star in the reality TV show our government is spending $200 million to fund. Some folks we’d like to put on Indian reality TV are the community planners the FAA is hiring while it is furloughing air traffic controllers. Speaking of the FAA, there are 88 airports with so little traffic, including at least one in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s state, that each receive a federal subsidy of up to $150,000. In Oklahoma, Coburn’s home state, he points out, there is one unused airport getting a $450,000 subsidy.
We can’t think of any fun places to send the robot squirrel the National Science Foundation has spent a good chunk of $325,000 to fund. The robot squirrel is supposed to find out how rattlesnakes react to squirrels. We suggest it be used to dart in and out of traffic resulting from what Coburn calls $500 million worth of “non-essential vehicles.”
As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly A. Strassel, while the White House stopped tours there during the spring break, saving all of $18,000 a week, the federal government last year held 894 conferences costing more than $100,000 each and totaling $340 million. This week USDA officials are attending a Small Farm Conference in Fresno that guarantees “fine wines and exceptional micro-brews paired with seasonally driven culinary delicacies.” Fresno? They have our sympathy. Next month USDA will sponsor a health conference in Corvallis, Ore., that will include healthy wine tasting of Oregon pinots. No sympathy for that, unless it rains.
Just running the White House house budget costs taxpayers $1.4 billion. Vacations, including separate vacations for Michelle and Barack Obama, cost $20 million. Their Hawaiian Christmas costs $4 million alone.
But the really big bucks, according to Coburn are 1,362 duplicative programs costing $364.5 billion a year. And the president is squawking about having to cut $44 billion this year and $85 billion next year.
Here’s a suggestion for the president and some of the leaders in the Agriculture Department, the Labor Department and General Services Agency: Take a financial literacy course. The federal government has 15 financial literacy programs in 13 agencies costing $30 million. Or they can all check out #SequesterThis.