Monkeys Running on Treadmills: Hairy Tales of Government Waste
Policy + Politics

Monkeys Running on Treadmills: Hairy Tales of Government Waste


It seems a week can’t go by without a Republican lawmaker issuing a colorful report on wasteful government spending.

Last week Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) released a study called "Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball,” offering 100 examples of Washington pouring money down the drain. Not to be outdone, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Tuesday rolled out a report of his own – and this one has a Star Wars theme.

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The title, “Wastebook: The Force Awakens,” is a not-so-subtle nod to the upcoming seventh installment of the Star Wars space opera. And Flake shamelessly exploits the metaphor in the report.

“Hopefully, this report gives Congress – which only ever seems to agree when it comes to spending money – something to Chewie on before the taxpayers strike back,” Flake said in a statement.

Here are some of more interesting examples contained in the 290-page study:

* The biggest offender was the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which spent around $104 million to subsidize low-income public housing for middle class and wealthy families. The report draws from data culled by the agency’s inspector general which found more than 25,000 “over income” families earning more than the maximum income for government-subsidized housing.

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* The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $5 million over five years on an effort Flake called “Help a Hipster,” aimed at reducing smoking through anti-tobacco theme parties at night clubs and bars and paying attendees up to $100 to stop smoking.

* NIH got dinged again for doling out $1 million to study monkeys running on treadmills. Researchers said “these techniques should be useful to researchers wishing to address physiological responses of exercise in a marmoset model,” according to the report.

* The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $2.1 million on a pair of five-year programs to promote tourism in Lebanon, even though the State Department issued a travel warning in May urging Americans to avoid the country because of safety concerns, including ISIS.

* The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $1.2 million that was used, in part, to fund a life-size Pac-Man game on a basketball court in South Carolina. The game was intended to demonstrate a combination of technology and exercise.

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* The NSF was also a repeat offender, providing $1.3 million to academic researchers in Washington state to get to the bottom of how a koozie keeps beer cold, and $707,000 in to Duke University to create a “fight club for shrimp” in which 68 Panamanian mantis shrimp fought in 34 separate contests.

* NASA was cited for spending $1.2 million to put sheep in micogravity for a study aimed to “mimic the impact of space travel on bones to better understand bone health and healing.” The three-year project is run by Colorado State University (whose mascot Flake misidentifies as a sheep – it’s actually a ram).

* The Homeland Security Department shelled out $3 million for bus security grants, some of which went to companies operating luxury charter buses and limousines, including the jitney that operates between New York City and the Hamptons.