15 Ridiculous Projects the Government Wasted Your Tax Dollars On
During their times in the U.S. Senate, fiscal conservatives Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) produced annual “Wastebooks” calling out the “100 most blatant examples of unnecessary government grants.” Here are a few of the oddest entries from recent years.
America’s Swankiest Bus Stop
In 2013 Arlington County, Virginia, received federal funding to build a luxury “SuperStop” bus stop complete with Wi-Fi, heated benches and sidewalks, and “a wall made of etched glass that opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping.” Too bad the slanted glass roof doesn’t do much to keep out rain and snow, or provide shade in the summertime.
Cost to taxpayers: $1 million
State Department officials wanted to increase traffic on the agency’s various Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, so they spent lavishly on in-site advertising. What did they get in return? Not much. Less than 2 percent of visitors to their pages”liked” or “favorited” any of their posts or tweets. Here are some other bizarre things the U.S. government spent money on.
Cost to taxpayers: $630,000
Giving Romance Novels the Serious Study They Deserve
In 2010, the National Endowment of the Humanities funded the Popular Romance Project, establishing a website to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and Internet fanfiction.” Topics on the website include “The Romance of British Secret Service Agent James Bond” and “Team Edward or Team Jacob?”
Cost to taxpayers: $914,000
Indie Rock In Rio
Several executives from various independent music labels received a government-funded, all-expenses-paid trip to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in 2013. Reason: “to compare the record stores, club districts, and facial expressions of locals at the mention of their bands.” While the execs reportedly enjoyed their trip, one of them said he “didn’t ink any deals.”
Cost to taxpayers: $284,300
Silly Solar Panels
A federal grant was used to install solar panels on the parking garage at the Manchester-Boston airport. One problem: The reflective panels were blinding the pilots, so 25 percent of them had to be removed (the panels, not the pilots). But the remaining panels, say airport officials, will generate “$2 million in savings over 25 years.” (Don’t miss these ways airports trick you into spending more money.)
Cost to taxpayers: $3.5 million
Begonias In Brussels
The residence of the U.S. ambassador to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, is lavishly decorated with “960 violets, 960 tulips, 960 begonias, 72 Japanese evergreen shrubs, 504 ivy geraniums, 168 hybrid heath evergreen shrubs, 204 American wintergreens, and 60 English ivy shrubs.”
Cost to taxpayers: $704,000
Watching Married Couples Bicker
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health observed 82 married couples to determine what factors make them happy. The conclusion? “The marriages that were the happiest were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly during marital conflicts.”
Cost to taxpayers: $325.525
Clandestine Creative Consultants
The sole purpose of the FBI’s “Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit” is to answer any questions that writers and filmmakers might have to ensure that any film, TV, or book that features the FBI will get the details right. Here are some other facts about the FBI we bet you didn’t know.
Annual cost to taxpayers: $1.5 million
Wine Glasses That Sing
The State Department uses taxpayer money to pay for hand-blown crystal wine glasses for U.S. embassies around the world. This is no ordinary glassware—it must be purchased only from high-end retailers, and each glass “has to make a sharp high-pitched resonant sound when tapped with a metal object, such as a fork or spoon.”
Cost to taxpayers: $5 million
Ducky naughty bits
In 2005, biologists at Yale University were awarded a research grant to study the reproductive anatomy of the duck. Specifically, the researchers studied the unique corkscrew-like shape of the male duck’s genitalia. After the study was showcased in Coburn’s Wastebook and lambasted by cable news pundits, lead researcher Patricia Brennan defended her work. “This is basic science,” she said. “The headlines reflect outrage that the study was about duck genitals, as if there is something inherently wrong or perverse with this line of research. Imagine if medical research drew the line at the belt! Genitalia, dear readers, are where the rubber meets the road, evolutionarily.”
Cost to taxpayers: $384,989
Predictable college drinking
The National Institute of Health funded studies looking at drinking habits of college students for more than a decade. Helping young adults maintain healthy drinking habits is important, but the researchers drew some not-so-shocking conclusions: Greek-affiliated students drink more than their peers, and college students, in general, drink more on game days. By the way, this is where all your student loan money is going.
Cost to taxpayers: $5 million
In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funded a billboard encouraging Denver drivers not to get behind the wheel while high. The eye-catching display included a 3-D joint that glowed at night to really hit the point home.
Cost to taxpayers: $35,000
Monkeys getting in the mood
Scientists wanted to figure out if associating red with romance was unique to humans, so they put primates to the test. Macaques looked at black-and-white pictures of seashells or of other monkeys’ hindquarters, which were on either red or blue backgrounds. While the male monkeys didn’t seem to care what they were looking at, the females went bananas over red, spending more time ogling male scrotums on red backgrounds than the other pictures.
Cost to taxpayers: $230,000
As you might know, birds are descendants of dinosaurs, which got researchers wondering if dinosaurs could sing like birds. The answer: nope.
Cost to taxpayers: $450,000
To get young adults to quit smoking, the NIH tried getting friends—specifically, “a group focused on the alternative music scene, local artists and designers, and eclectic self-expression,” AKA hipsters—to band together. Most of the campaign’s money went to anti-smoking art and music events, swag like koozies and T-shirts, and social media. Check out all the little ways you’re probably wasting money right now.
Cost to taxpayers: $5 million
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