Some (More) Silly Wasteful Spending by Uncle Sam

old casino sign - wasteful spendingWhatever happened to "waste not, want not?" A report released by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) that highlights wasteful government spending to the tune of $11.5 billion hits a few high notes that are sure to raise the blood pressure of those living with their own new frugality.

Much as we no doubt all believe that the Grateful Dead should be immortalized, Coburn's report says that $615,000 in federal dollars was used to digitize photos, t-shirts and Dead concert tickets. The money went to the University of California, Santa Cruz, the band's chosen locale for an archive that will be free to the public. Free is good, but frankly we think Jerry Garcia would have been happier to know that 15,000 people could have gotten another week of unemployment benefits (average is $300 per week) instead with the money.

That rivals UC Irvine's federal gift of nearly $3 million in taxpayer money that went to researchers to play video games such as World of Warcraft. The research is designed to help organizations "collaborate and compete more effectively in the global marketplace," says the report. The average family spends $600 a month on groceries. The $3 million would have bought food for 5,000 families for a month.

Coburn notes that as the year 2010 comes to a close, millions of Americans are struggling to find work and just about everyone has cut out the luxuries. So what's up with the government spending nearly $2 million to showcase neon signs no longer in use in Las Vegas casinos? (See an example above.) Las Vegas, by the way, was contemplating saving $150 million this year by laying off 2,300 teachers. Would you rather have a museum for dead neon casino signs or save a couple of teachers?

The Government Printing Office spent $30,000 for a new comic book that would "unfold the history of printing for children." Nice, but maybe they could have just shown them a couple of newspapers -- you know, the real McCoy that's about to go extinct?

Then there's the $1.5 million in stimulus funds for mold remediation that the city of Shreveport, La. spent -- on a low-income housing project that it is considering demolishing. To get the stimulus money, the city's housing authority said it would spend it to improve a number of low-income homes it managed, including $100,000 for combating mold and mildew at a complex called Wilkinson Terrace. After HUD noticed that nothing had been done 10 months after the city got its money, Shreveport officials hastily cut contracts worth more than $1.5 million for mold remediation -- 15 times what it said it would cost originally. The city is contesting the audit that revealed this unpleasantry.

Sure, all of that is just small potatoes. Nickels and dimes in a country with a deficit that has many zeroes. But somehow the $175 million that the Department of Veterans Affairs spends on maintaining unused buildings doesn't feel like such small potatoes. Many of the buildings are in disrepair, but the VA lacks the money, it says, to improve them and federal laws make it difficult for the agency to sell them.

There is some sweet irony that the VA -- with its reputation for being the Mother of All Bureaucracies -- is getting ensnared in red tape. But honestly, with 107,000 homeless vets sleeping in America's doorways, wouldn't an unused VA building be better than the street?

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