Recently, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla) released Waste Book 2012, his analysis of 100 federally funded programs that he considers especially wasteful. Between Waste Book's covers, he outlines some of the funniest -- and strangest -- things that are paid for with our tax dollars.
Coburn's point is clear: It's hard to see how the Department of Defense's $700,000 beef jerky development program, the Small Business Administration's $2 million in loans to cupcake makers or the National Science Federation's $697,177 musical about climate change could possibly bear economic fruit. What's more, with those kinds of projects on the ledger, it's hard to argue that the government is restraining spending.
Think you can spot the strangest projects, the oddest programs, and the weirdest ways that your tax dollars are spent? Take our quiz to find out.
Pop Quiz: What Are the Weirdest Things the Government Funds?
Pop Quiz: What's the Weirdest Stuff Your Tax Dollars Get Spent On?
A. An interactive game based on Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"
B. "Zombie Yoga," which teaches players to use visualization and yoga to overcome a zombie infection.
C. "Starlight," a massive, multiplayer game that simulates a trip to Mars.
D. "American Adventures," in which users recreate the classic adventures of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Davey Crockett, and other American heroes.
In addition to spending $50,000 to develop a slate of games, including "Zombie Yoga," the National Endowment of the Arts spent $40,000 developing a Thoreau game -- which an entertainment critic later described as "the most boring idea for a video game ever." Meanwhile, NASA spent $1.5 million on "Starlight" -- its answer to "World of Warcraft."
A. Creating "Robo-squirrel," a robotic rodent developed to study rattlesnakes.
B. Minting pennies
C. Developing a menu for astronauts traveling to Mars
D. Studying the psychology of golf players
While Robo-squirrel ($325,000), astronaut cookery ($947,000), and golf player psychoanalysis ($350,000) all cost a pretty penny, they pale beside the actual costs associated with producing the little copper coins. It costs 2.4 cents to mint every penny (and 11 cents to mint every nickel). To produce this year's penny supply -- with a face value of $50 million -- the federal government will spend $120 million.
A. The USO's "Comedy Oasis" tour of Iraq
B. NASA's "Voyage to the Stars" tour of U.S. schools
C. The State Department's "Make Chai, Not War" tour of India
D. The Commerce Department's "Making Funny Business" tour of American Chambers of Commerce
A seven-city tour across India, "Make Chai, Not War" cost $100,000 and featured three Indian-American comedians poking fun at their lives in America.
A. Greek Yogurt
B. Idaho Caviar
C. New York Potato Chips
D. New Hampshire Beer
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce are spending $1.3 million to upgrade the infrastructure at a New York industrial park, in return for which Pepsico has agreed to build a Greek yogurt factory there. The government is also spending $750,000 to help Smuttynose beer company build a brewery in New Hampshire, $300,000 to help the Idaho caviar industry get on its feet, and $49,990 to help promote North Fork potato chips, which are made in New York.
A. West Virginia's "Give Your Kinfolk a Ride" program
B. South Carolina's "Arrive Alive" bathroom poster program
C. Michigan's "Wizmark" talking urinal cakes program
D. Boston's "Wicked Free Cabs for Wicked Wasted Guys" program
The Wizmark program's 400 talking urinal cakes loudly encouraged bar patrons to "Call a sober friend or cab" if they were too drunk to drive home. It also pointed out that they should remember to wash their hands.
Using $30,000 from the National Science Foundation, researchers from the University of Washington and Cornell University determined that students speed-reading faces were about 60 percent accurate in determining the sexual orientation of the person pictured.
A. A $450,000 program to run an Oklahoma airport that gets one flight per month
B. A $97,000 contest for the best 30-second video on the value of fruits and vegetables
C. A $939,771 study of the sex lives of fruit flies
D. A $1.2 million study on the effects that playing "World of Warcraft" has on elderly people