Bomb-Sniffing Elephants Among $1 Billion in ‘America’s Most Wasted’
Policy + Politics

Bomb-Sniffing Elephants Among $1 Billion in ‘America’s Most Wasted’

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“America’s Most Wasted” sounds like a YouTube video from Spring Break. But it’s more serious than that. It’s the title of a new report from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tagging more than $1 billion of what he deems “wasteful” government spending — mostly in the Pentagon’s sprawling defense budget. 

The questionable expenditures of taxpayer dollars, including $50,000 for a study looking at whether elephants could be used to sniff out bombs, were highlighted just days after the Senate approved a Republican budget blueprint that increases defense spending and cuts $5 trillion from domestic programs like Medicare and Medicaid. 

Related: Government Waste Gets a New Warrior 

The report by McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, takes its cue from former Sen. Tom Coburn’s infamous “Wastebook,” which put a spotlight on government projects and programs of dubious value. 

"Government spending is spiraling out of control," McCain writes in the report. "The national debt recently exceeded $18 trillion, while our $486 billion deficit is projected to reach $1 trillion over the next decade. Washington's repeat fiscal offenses are leading us down a dangerous path — sending hard-earned American tax dollars to mismanaged and wasteful programs."

The report cites a new study from the Congressional Budget Office that found the federal government is spending $294 billion on programs no longer authorized to receive federal funding.

Among the agencies receiving unauthorized funds were the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Related: Coburn’s Wastebook Highlights $25 Billion Taxpayer Loss

The report also blasts studies like the one by the Army to determine whether elephants could be used to detect bombs.

"While finding new ways to enhance our bomb detection methods is important, it is unlikely that African elephants could feasibly be used on the battlefield given their large size and sensitive status as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act," the report says.

The other programs can be found here.

Before Coburn retired, he released his “Wastebook” report every year for the last five years, usually finding around $30 billion of “wasteful programs.” McCain said he’ll be rolling new reports out throughout the year —specifically focusing on the Pentagon.

Rep. Steve Russell, (R-OK) has also taken up Coburn’s waste-warrior cudgel. He released his own waste report earlier this year. Russell’s “Waste Watch” targets 10 different programs costing $117 million. Like McCain’s report, Russell’s primarily targets the Pentagon, which is often scrutinized for how it spends its money.

Congress doesn’t appear to be too worried about it, though, since it just approved more money for defense.

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