Sen. Coburn's 'Wastebook' details $25 billion in outrageous government spending

Retiring Senator Tom Coburn has released his annual "Wastebook" - a compendium of outrageous government spending.

Some of these items are beyond belief:

More than a dozen lucky rabbits were given Swedish massages four times a day, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, as part of a study to figure out whether massage can help recovery times after strenuous exercise — a practice Sen. Tom Coburn says makes a mockery of federal spending.

The rabbit massages are one of the hundred wasteful products Mr. Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, identified in his latest edition of the Wastebook, an annual compendium of the ridiculous and outrageous items in government spending, which he is releasing on Wednesday.

Other highlights included the National Science Foundation paying academics to teach monkeys to gamble, government sponsorship of a children’s play about brain-eating zombies and a first-person combat shooting video game the Army developed — but which intelligence officials fear terrorists could use to train their own recruits. Indeed, Hezbollah has adapted the game’s design to train suicide martyrs.

Mr. Coburn’s investigators also found scientists putting mountain lions, monkeys, rats and cows on treadmills. That’s reminiscent of a previous famous item Mr. Coburn spotted that involved sticking shrimp on a treadmill to try to see if tired shrimp were less healthy.

“Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up [with] some of the zany projects the government paid for this year,” Mr. Coburn said upon releasing the report.

In the case of the rabbits, they weren’t put on treadmills but were forced to exercise in order to create stress.

Some of the rabbits were then given immediate massages, some were given delayed massages, and the unlucky ones weren’t given any massages at all. Scientists then tried to figure out if the massages helped.

Taxpayers paid $387,000 for the two-year study, which concluded that other studies were right, and massage seemed to help in recovery — though it wasn’t clear that rabbit physiology could be extrapolated to humans. The rabbits were euthanized at the end of the study, Mr. Coburn’s report says.

In another finding, Mr. Coburn said hundreds of employees who were suspended from their jobs for misconduct are still being paid by taxpayers — to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in salary.

All told, Coburn lists 100 separate items costing taxpayers $25 billion.It's the tip of the iceberg, of course, and Coburn realizes that. But perhaps even more outrageously, government departments and agencies are refusing to cooperate with Coburn's annual descent into the muck of government waste:

Not every project is a victory. One left on the cutting floor this year involved Pentagon sponsorship of a video game festival. Mr. Foster spotted an advertisement for the festival on the subway and pursued the project, but in the end wasn’t able to get the Defense Department to disclose a cost figure.

Agencies are increasingly balking at cooperating with fiscal watchdogs like Mr. Coburn who believe they have a right to know how the government is spending their money.

His office now enlists the Congressional Research Service, with in-house research staff, to make some of inquiries. Mr. Coburn also asks for help from the Government Accountability Office, the chief investigative arm of Congress.

This year, Mr. Coburn had the GAO investigate the tens of millions of dollars doled out to federal employees on “paid administrative leave” — meaning they collect salaries even as many are on suspension for misconduct.

“Wastebook is like a scavenger hunt. It does not require a law degree or even years of D.C. experience, just some common sense and dedication with a leader who takes his role as a representative of taxpayers seriously,” Mr. Foster said. “If a 22-year-old intern can do this, why can’t a chairman of a powerful committee with a staff of dozens and a budget of millions?”

With Coburn retiring, it will be interesting to see who picks up the slack in highlighting these crimes against the taxpayer. Whoever it is, they will have a target rich environment to work with.

Retiring Senator Tom Coburn has released his annual "Wastebook" - a compendium of outrageous government spending.

Some of these items are beyond belief:

More than a dozen lucky rabbits were given Swedish massages four times a day, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, as part of a study to figure out whether massage can help recovery times after strenuous exercise — a practice Sen. Tom Coburn says makes a mockery of federal spending.

The rabbit massages are one of the hundred wasteful products Mr. Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, identified in his latest edition of the Wastebook, an annual compendium of the ridiculous and outrageous items in government spending, which he is releasing on Wednesday.

Other highlights included the National Science Foundation paying academics to teach monkeys to gamble, government sponsorship of a children’s play about brain-eating zombies and a first-person combat shooting video game the Army developed — but which intelligence officials fear terrorists could use to train their own recruits. Indeed, Hezbollah has adapted the game’s design to train suicide martyrs.

Mr. Coburn’s investigators also found scientists putting mountain lions, monkeys, rats and cows on treadmills. That’s reminiscent of a previous famous item Mr. Coburn spotted that involved sticking shrimp on a treadmill to try to see if tired shrimp were less healthy.

“Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up [with] some of the zany projects the government paid for this year,” Mr. Coburn said upon releasing the report.

In the case of the rabbits, they weren’t put on treadmills but were forced to exercise in order to create stress.

Some of the rabbits were then given immediate massages, some were given delayed massages, and the unlucky ones weren’t given any massages at all. Scientists then tried to figure out if the massages helped.

Taxpayers paid $387,000 for the two-year study, which concluded that other studies were right, and massage seemed to help in recovery — though it wasn’t clear that rabbit physiology could be extrapolated to humans. The rabbits were euthanized at the end of the study, Mr. Coburn’s report says.

In another finding, Mr. Coburn said hundreds of employees who were suspended from their jobs for misconduct are still being paid by taxpayers — to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in salary.

All told, Coburn lists 100 separate items costing taxpayers $25 billion.It's the tip of the iceberg, of course, and Coburn realizes that. But perhaps even more outrageously, government departments and agencies are refusing to cooperate with Coburn's annual descent into the muck of government waste:

Not every project is a victory. One left on the cutting floor this year involved Pentagon sponsorship of a video game festival. Mr. Foster spotted an advertisement for the festival on the subway and pursued the project, but in the end wasn’t able to get the Defense Department to disclose a cost figure.

Agencies are increasingly balking at cooperating with fiscal watchdogs like Mr. Coburn who believe they have a right to know how the government is spending their money.

His office now enlists the Congressional Research Service, with in-house research staff, to make some of inquiries. Mr. Coburn also asks for help from the Government Accountability Office, the chief investigative arm of Congress.

This year, Mr. Coburn had the GAO investigate the tens of millions of dollars doled out to federal employees on “paid administrative leave” — meaning they collect salaries even as many are on suspension for misconduct.

“Wastebook is like a scavenger hunt. It does not require a law degree or even years of D.C. experience, just some common sense and dedication with a leader who takes his role as a representative of taxpayers seriously,” Mr. Foster said. “If a 22-year-old intern can do this, why can’t a chairman of a powerful committee with a staff of dozens and a budget of millions?”

With Coburn retiring, it will be interesting to see who picks up the slack in highlighting these crimes against the taxpayer. Whoever it is, they will have a target rich environment to work with.