Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook: A $25 Billion Taxpayer Loss
Policy + Politics

Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook: A $25 Billion Taxpayer Loss


Over the last five years, Sen. Tom Coburn, the retiring senior Republican Senator from Oklahoma and notorious deficit hawk, has released a massive annual report ripping into the federal government’s spending habits. The much-anticipated "Wastebook" outlines what Coburn deems the top 100 “wasteful” federal projects that collectively cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

The annual report is known for scrutinizing programs run by every major department. From the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department, to tiny obscure agencies like the National Technical Information Service--no one is immune to a feared mention in Coburn’s “Wastebook."

Related: Government Blatantly Wastes $30 Billion This Year

In the fifth and final chapter of the report, which will likely retire along with the senator, Coburn highlights items totaling a collective $25 billion in “waste” including the Defense Department’s $80 million “Iron Man” suit designed for soldiers on the battlefield but—as skeptics say--will likely serve as nothing more than a cool costume.

There’s also the $4.6 million the Customs and Border Patrol Spent on luxury homes for temporary border patrol agents, the billions of dollars the DoD plans to spend destroying $16 billion worth of unnecessary ammunition and the $1.5 million in taxpayer funded grants to help give a Disney luxury resort a makeover.

Coburn's report also includes the smaller ticket items like $450,000 that the Department of Homeland Security spent to cover some of its employees’ high-end Washington, D.C. gym and spa memberships. It also targets the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing golf courses instead of providing individual financial assistance to flood victims in Austin, Texas. The report also questions numerous research studies at the National Science Foundation--including one trial that involves teaching mountain lions to walk on treadmills. However, scientists and others caution that though some projects may seem "wacky" or "frivolous" they could be useful and should continue receiving federal funding.

Related: Gov Buys $17 M in Luxury Homes for Border Agents

Still, for his part Coburn says when going through the report, “Ask yourself: is each of these a true national priority or could the money have been better spent on a more urgent need or not spent at all in order to reduce the burden of debt being left to your children and grandchildren.”

Coburn, who announced his retirement last spring, is equally harsh on his fellow lawmakers—calling out Congress in this year’s report for being on track to be the “least productive” in 60 years, adding that the last two years were just “an extended lame duck session, that produced “little meaningful results.”

“What I have learned from these experiences is Washington will never change itself. But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”

Here are some of the highlights of the report:

$80 Million “Iron Man” Suit for Soldiers That Might Not Work

The DoD is pouring millions into a wearable weapon it calls the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) otherwise known as the “Iron Man” suit. It has a budget so far of $80 million in order to create a suit of armor that soldiers can wear while also being able to carry hundreds of pounds of gear Some scientists are already skeptical and say soldiers would never be able to move around in the heavy armor—let alone carry anything else. Though it’s in its beginning stages, some estimate it could run way over budget, without ever achieving any results…other than looking cool.

$19 Million for Federal Administrative Leave—Federal workers accused of wrongdoing or misconduct were placed on paid leave for sometimes months—even years at a time, while auditors investigated their cases. Some, including one EPA employee who was caught watching massive amounts of porn at work, are still on leave and currently collecting a federal paycheck.

$1 Billion Pentagon spends a billion destroying $16 billion of ammo

DoD purchased $16 billion worth of ammunition that it didn’t actually need, according to a Government Accountability Office investigation that found much of the ammo became “obsolete, unusable or their use is banned by international treaty.” GAO also found that the Pentagon’s record keeping for the ammo was also in poor shape and the agency couldn’t determine which ammo it could still use. Regardless, it now has no choice but to destroy it and the amount of surplus ammo is so large that, according to Coburn’s report, will equal the full year salary for over 54,000 Army privates.

$124.3 Million to Embattled Security Clearance Contractor —The United States paid $124.3 million this year to the contractor that provided security clearances for Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, USIS. The embattled contractor has been mired in controversy after the Department of Justice last spring accused it of submitting more than 665,000 fake background investigations. As a result they may have allowed thousands of ineligible people to obtain security clearance within the federal government. The DOJ alleges that the company intentionally “dumped” or submitted incomplete cases to the Office of Personnel Management in order to meet its performance goals.

$9 Million DoD pays 16 times the actual price of helicopter parts

The federal government has a history of overpaying for things—especially within the Department of Defense. This time, DoD paid more than $8,000 a piece on helicopter parts that actually cost $500. In total, the report said, Bell Helicopter of Textron, Inc., received $9 million in excess payments from the DoD for 33 of 35 replacement spare parts. 

$100,000 for Coast Guard to Be a Private Lifeguard to the Rich:

Though the U.S. Coast Guard has been slapped with budget cuts and had to manage its resources, its sometimes being used to provide free patrols in “some of the country’s most exclusive real estate” to prevent people from crashing private parties, the report said. In one instance, two orange boats carrying nine armed Coast Guard service members were stationed in Long Island Sound to keep other boaters away from a barge launching celebratory fireworks for a wedding party on Glen Island.  “Unlike police agencies that provide security support for private events on land, the Coast Guard does not seek reimbursement, leaving the bill to taxpayers,” the report said.

$1.9 Million Useless Sheep Station

Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to shut down the Idaho-based U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (which is apparently where 3,000 sheep are sheltered and observed), a handful of members of Congress have fought to keep it open and operating at a cost of $2 million a year. According to its mission statement, the Sheep Station’s aim is to increase USDA has repeatedly said that it is no longer needed, but Idaho Congressman have relentlessly battled to keep it open. 

$18 Million for a Grammy Museum in Mississippi 

State and federal taxpayers are on the hook for covering the 20,000 square foot Grammy’s Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, which will be “the most technologically advanced music-themed museum in the world,” according to the report. The Grammy Museum Mississippi “will help the rest of the world recognize Mississippi’s contribution to American music culture,” according to Bob Santelli, Executive Director of the Grammy Museum at L.A. 

$37,663 FEMA Rebuilds Golf Course Instead of Helping Flood Victims 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is consistently under scrutiny for the way it delivers aid to storm victims. And now, the Coburn report says the agency overlooked helping flood victims in Austin, Texas, while helping foot the bill to rebuild a public golf course. According to the report, after a deadly flood devastated Central Texas, Governor Rick Perry requested federal assistance. FEMA, however, denied the state’s request to provide funds to individuals directly and instead approved the state’s request for funds to rebuild damaged infrastructure” which included a public golf course. According to the report, since 1999, FEMA has spent more than $18 million rebuilding public golf courses damaged by storms.

$1.5 Million SBA Gives Disney’s Polynesian Resort gets a Million-Dollar Makeover

Through the Small Business Administration’s Surety Bond Guarantee Program, —Disney’s Polynesian Resort received $455,684 in guarantees from the government for a construction company to build a skylight system in one of the resorts buildings. It also received nearly $1 million for other “rehab” work around the resort, where rooms cost a minimum of $429 per night, the report said.

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