The Weirdest Things Your Taxes Pay For

Research scientists prepare a pizza for a mission to Mars. (Michael Stravato, AP)

For fiscal hawks looking into ways to humiliate the government, there's never a lack of examples to show Washington's wastefulness. In October, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released Wastebook 2012, a look at over $18 billion in projects that are bizarre, and often hard to justify.

Admittedly, $18 billion is just a drop in the vast sea of federal expenditures. For example, it's just over 2% of the defense budget, or 9% of the yearly cost of the Bush tax cuts. Still, it's hard to ignore over $1 million dollars spent on video game development or the hundreds of thousands put into creating a robotic rodent. If you're looking for a quick laugh -- or a little bit of righteous outrage -- take a peek at our gallery of weird government expenditures.

The Weirdest Things Your Taxes Pay For
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The Weirdest Things Your Taxes Pay For

Forget Mario Brothers or World of Warcraft: Using a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment from the Arts, academics at the University of Southern California developed an interactive game based on Henry David Thoreau's Walden.

One of the most famous federally-funded boondoggles, San Diego State University's "Robo-Squirrel" was a $325,000 robotic rodent created to study rattlesnakes.


When it comes to wasting money, it's hard to beat minting pennies: Every penny costs 2.4 cents to make. this year, the federal government will spend $120 million to make 50 million pennies -- a loss of $70 million.

When it comes to video games, the Nation Endowment of the Arts isn't the only government organization spending money. NASA spent $1.5 million to develop StarLight, a massive, multiplayer game that simulates a trip to Mars.

Photo: Starlite Facebook

When it comes to government money, huge, highly profitable companies aren't embarrassed to get in line for their share. The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce spent $1.3 million to upgrade the infrastructure at a New York industrial park, in return for which PepsiCo agreed to build a Greek yogurt factory there.

The government occasionally gets into show business: The State Department's "Make Chai, Not War" comedy tour, was a seven-city engagement across India that cost $100,000. It featured three Indian-American comedians poking fun at their lives in America.

Never mind potatoes and wine: Idaho is moving into super-premium food...with the help of the Federal government. In 2012, the USDA spent $300,000 to promote the Idaho caviar industry.

For anyone who has ever been annoyed by the swarms of little insects flying around their bananas, there's a bright spot on the horizon: The National Institutes of Health spent $939,771 to study the sex lives of fruit flies.

Ever had a toilet talk back to you? The Michigan State Police, using $10,000 in Department of Transportation funds, bought 400 "Wizmarks," talking urinal cakes that exhorted users 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% accurate in determining the sexual orientation of the person pictured.

With the help of Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), North Fork potato chips -- a snack company based in Suffolk County, New York -- qualified for a $49,990 marketing grant from the USDA.

America is at least a few decades away from sending a manned mission to Mars, but NASA is already working on the food the astronauts will eat on the trip. The space agency spends roughly $1 million annually to help develop a Mars menu -- including Martian pizza!

Ever wondered why it's so hard to sink a golf putt? The National Science Foundation did, too: the government organization spent $350,000 to help researchers at Purdue University figure out the psychology of golf players.

As part of a $1.2 million study to determine the effect of video game playing on the elderly, the National Science Foundation discovered that playing World of Warcraft can help some older people improve their scores on cognitive tests. In other words, killing imaginary monsters can help grandma and grandpa keep the real-life threat of cognitive loss at bay.


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