Newspaper column: Another senator spotlights federal wasteful spending

Back in the 1970s Wisconsin U.S. Sen. William Proxmire began handing out his monthly Golden Fleece Award, recognizing wasteful spending by government agencies, such as a $4 million advertising campaign by the Postal Service to encourage Americans to write more letters to each other.

After his retirement, along came Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who published an annual “Wastebook” list of 100 wasteful government boondoggles and debacles, which one year criticized the IRS for allowing $17.5 million in tax deductions for business expenses at Nevada brothels, such as breast implants, costumes and “equipment.”

With Coburn retiring, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has compiled his periodic waste reports to provide taxpayers with an amusing litany of imaginative ways federal bureaucrats have found to waste their money. For 2017, Paul just scratched the surface and uncovered more than $563 million worth of boondoggles, extravagances, profligacies and imprudences.

Some were huge and some were petty. All outlandish.

“Hard to believe it has been another year already. Seems like just yesterday our national debt was inching closer to $20 trillion, and now it’s pushing $21 trillion,” the senator writes in introducing “The Waste Report.” “And what a year it was!!! Wonder Woman dominated at the box office. For the first time ever, the Houston Astros won a World Series, and the world got a new iPhone (and lost a home button in the process). Yet while our homes and cars continued to get smarter, the same cannot be said for our federal government and how it spends and wastes hardworking Americans’ tax dollars.”

The big ticket item from Paul’s roster of wasteful spending was a whopping $233 million in U.S. tax dollars to build a 63-mile highway, not in the United States but in Afghanistan. That’s $3.7 million per mile, folks.

A New York Times report on the project found that millions of dollars were spent not on construction but for security, much of that going to a mysterious figure who was suspected of staging attacks on the project in order to wring more money from the project. “Security contractors, meanwhile, would seemingly only show up for pay day, though on paper they were working every day,” Paul writes.

On the petty side of the ledger, there was the $125,000 from something called the Rural Energy for America Program to pay for solar electric panels for a luxury golf course on the resort island of St. Croix in the Caribbean.

“And are solar panels really an agricultural priority for taxpayers?” asks Paul. “Probably not. Even if they were, solar powered golf courses in the Caribbean certainly do not fit the bill.”

For sheer audacity, it would be difficult to top the National Endowment for the Arts spending $20,000 to film something called “Traffic Jam,” which features “[a]rtists working with local youth” to “choreograph automobiles, bicycles, golf carts, and pedicabs to perform skilled movements in a parking lot, making art inspired by Austin’s traffic congestion.” Honk if you love this one.

If that doesn’t give you a charge, take a gander at the “Power UP” project, which “showcased 50+ linemen, electrical technicians and Austin Energy employees in a choreographed full-length dance with cranes, bucket and field trucks,” as well as “a set of 20 utility poles.” This cost taxpayers a mere $10,000 — a bargain no doubt.

You’ll be glad to know your benevolence also doled out $130,000 to develop digital down markers for football games, $75,000 to pay for British bloggers to vacation in the U.S., $1.5 million for a bathroom in a Queens, N.Y., public park, $500,000 for a parking lot for an Indian casino and $1.5 million to study how to make tomatoes taste better.

At least those monies were spent here. Our support overseas was also magnanimous: $14.8 million to finance international versions of

“Sesame Street,” $1.7 million to remind Cambodian motorcyclists to wear helmets, nearly $100,000 to teach Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook, $15 million to train cashiers for Walmart in Mexico, $21 million to buy motorbikes for Pakistani dairy farmers, $98 million to promote tourism in war-torn Myanmar and nearly $24 million to help Moroccan college grads find jobs.

Doesn’t it make you want to pop your suspenders with pride? Or pop someone.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.