Dec 18 2013

Tax Dollars Pay for Elvis; Study of Duck Penises, 3D Pizza


What do duck penises, Elvis, and 3D pizza all have in common? All three were recipients of federal funds in 2013. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has examined the federal budget and drafted a new list of some of the most absurd, wasteful spending of the year. In his work, Wastebook, he details 100 frivolous budget items with a grand total of $28 billion in spending. Obvious items include $2.5 billion in furloughed workers’ backpay during the shutdown, failed infrastructure ventures, and industry stimulus packages that just didn’t stimulate. But some items and programs on the list are bizarre or downright irresponsible.

Here are my 15 favorites:

1. 20 people were paid $18,000 each by NASA to lay in bed for 70 days with their feet “tilted slightly downward.” The point of this was to study how weightlessness will affect the body during future space missions. This study has actually been replicated several times since the 1960’s, so no one is quite sure why NASA felt the need to conduct it again. (pg. 22)

2. The US Postal Service paid futurist Faith Popcorn $566,000 for advice on stamps. Wiki defines a futurist as a sort of social science and marketing psychic. (pg. 68)

3. While Congress is busy worrying about 3D printed guns, NASA spent $125,000 on printers that create 3D pizza. (pg. 66)

4. The Popular Romance Project, is basically a website and documentary about romance novels. The Library of Congress Center for the Book is an important participant, and it cost the government $914,000. It also encourages library programs that center on the “past, present, and future” of the romance novel. These programs feature a traveling exhibit. Notable topics on the website include a discussion on whether Twilight fans fall into Team Edward or Team Jacob, and a discussion on the “Call Me Maybe” pop song. (pg. 7)

5. The USDA awarded a $15,000 grant to a Vermont nonprofit -the Rich Earth Institute – to collect 3,000 gallons of human urine as test its use as fertilizer. (pg. 75)

6. The National Science Foundation provided Yale with nearly $400,000 to study duck penises. (pg. 108) They also spent a similar amount studying Tea Partiers, and determined those who identify with the Tea Party are slightly better at science (maybe this one isn’t so silly – pg. 127)

Arlington's $1 million SuperStop

Arlington’s $1 million SuperStop

7. The National Institutes of Health conducted a study and announced that wives need to “calm down.” Wives who report calming down from a fight supposedly contribute to higher rates of marital satisfaction. More about that here. 82 couples were studied in this $335,525 debacle. (pg. 27)

8. $60.4 million of the funds allocated to help victims of hurricane Sandy actually went to television ads. $40 million alone went towards a “New York State Open for Business” tourism campaign. (pg. 47)

9. A bus stop in Arlington, VA – or a “SuperStop” – cost $1 million. It has heated benches and sidewalks, as well as wifi. However, the specific tilt of its roof – supposedly meant to mimic a flying bird – fails to protect those waiting for the bus from wind, rain, or strong sunlight. It can shelter approximately 15 people at one time. The government hopes to build another 23 similar structures. (pg. 32)

10. $700,000 went to tending the U.S. Ambassador to NATO’s personal garden. The itemized list of plants cared for includes “960 violas, 960 tulips, 960 begonias, 72 Japanese evergreen shrubs, 504 ivy geraniums, 168 hybrid heath evergreen shrubs, 204 American wintergreens and 60 English ivy shrubs.” (pg. 48)

11. $300,000 went to old-fashioned oil paintings commissioned by various government officials. (pg. 104)

12. $10 billion was spent on an Army National Guard ad campaign linked to this year’s Superman flick. The “Soldier of Steel” campaign showed ads in theaters, video games, and car decals. The campaign targeted high school students in an effort to promote “awareness of service opportunities,” while the National Guard reduced its pool of soldiers by 8,000. (pg. 5)

13. $379 million was spent on building and promoting healthcare.gov. We all know how that one turned out. I’d like to remind everyone that part of this money went towards Elvis impersonators. (pg. 18)

14. NASA also created the $390,000 “Green Ninja,” a superhero to teach kids about global warming. He is being featured in lesson plans with the help of his YouTube page. (pg. 53)

15. $5 million was spent on custom crystal stemware for US embassies. (pg. 74)

And now, the trillion dollar question – why is it that Congress has such a hard time cutting down spending? Other items on the list could have been easily avoided – Defense vehicles built but never used, military equipment destroyed instead of recycled, and electric bills in empty federal buildings. The $28 billion in Wastebook is already more than the proposed $23 billion spending cut in the most recent budget deal. Do we really need another million dollar bus stop?


  1. tea

    You are so cool! I don’t believe I’ve truly read through something like this before. So good to find another person with a few original thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

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