Tom Coburn picks watching grass grow, synchronized swimming sea monkeys for annual 'Wastebook'

From NASA to the NFL, Sen. Tom Coburn's annual "Wastebook" highlights the strangest, silliest and most outrageous sources of government expenditure this year.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  Oct. 22, 2014 at 4:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Tom Coburn is going out with a bang.

The retiring Oklahoma senator released his final annual Wastebook, highlighting 100 of the most outlandish government expenditures this year, adding up to $25 billion in federal spending.

Ranging from watching grass grow ($10,000) to low-income Medicare prescription plans ($5 billion), Coburn's annual guide to the most absurd and inefficient line-items of the annual budget is more than just a critique.

"With no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem is not just what Washington isn't doing, but what it is doing," Coburn said. "I have learned from these experiences that Washington will never change itself. But even if the politicians won't stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word."

In the past, programs slammed in the Wastebook end up on the chopping block, targets for spending cuts on the House and Senate floors.

Even though Coburn is stepping down from his seat this year, the Wastebook mantel may be picked up by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., next year.

From NASA the National Endowment for the Arts, here are ten of the most ridiculous entries in the Wastebook (and read the whole thing, below):

Synchronized Swimming for Sea Monkeys ($307,524)

"Cartoon-style ads for pet Sea-Monkeys promise that you can learn to "make them ap- pear to obey your commands, follow a beam of light, do loop-the-loops and even seem to dance when you play" music. The New York Times says it is "'sort of true' that Sea Monkeys can be trained because they do follow light.

With the financial support of three govern- ment agencies, researchers put these claims to the test and essentially choreographed a laser guided synchronized swim team of Sea Monkeys as part of a study to measure the swirl created by their collective movements.

...'It turns out that the collective swimming motion of Sea-Monkeys and other zooplankton -- swimming plankton -- can generate enough swirling flow to potentially influence the circulation of water in oceans,' according to the researchers. They conducted a similar study with jellyfish in 2009 and reached similar conclusions showing 'small animals can generate flow in the surrounding water.'"

Swedish Massages for Rascally Rabbits ($387,000)

A group of rabbits received daily rub downs from a 'mechanical device that simulates the long, flowing strokes used in Swedish massages.' The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health provided $387,000 for the two year project which ended in April 2014.

The massages were given after subjecting the rabbits to exercise to measure its impact on recovery. To conduct the experiment, 'New Zealand White rabbits were instrumented' with 'nerve cuffs for stimulation of hindlimb' leg muscles. The rabbits were 'anesthetized and secured supine with one foot attached to a foot pedal.'

Following the work outs, researchers compared post-ex- ercise recovery time for those receiving immediate massages, delayed massages, or no massages at all. The lucky bunnies received massages four times a day that lasted 30 minutes immediately following exercise. These rabbits not only got the most massages, they also recovered quicker from the exercises."

Voicemails From the Future Warn of Post Apocalyptic World ($5.2 million)

"A disruption in the time-space continuum has somehow caused voicemails from the future to fall from the sky, warning everyone who hears them about the disastrous effects of global warming: Zombies on the loose, airports underwater and bananas nearly impossible to find. So sets the stage for a game called FutureCoast, which attempts to teach people about what the future might hold if climate change makes the seas rise.

It's all funded by the National Science Foundation using a portion of a $5.2 million grant to Columbia University given, in part, to develop an interactive game to spur climate change activism. FutureCoast is a 'collaborative game' set in an alternative world where fictional voicemails have been transported back in time – cased in pieces of circular plastic called 'chronofacts' -- allowing people to listen in on what earthlings from the future say about the climate."

DOD Pays 16 Times the Going Price for Helicopter Parts ($9 million)

"The Department of Defense (DOD) spent more than $8,000 on helicopter gears that cost under $500. Bell Helicopter of Textron Inc. received more than $9 million in excess payments from the military for 33 of 35 replacement spare parts reviewed. The gears and other spare parts were purchased under a sole-source, noncompetitive contract worth $128 million. The DOD inspector general recommended that the military attempt to recoup the excess payments."

Subsidies for Sports Stadiums Leave Taxpayers Holding the Bill ($146 million)

"Through the use of municipal bonds, state and local governments are able to finance the building of multi-million dollar sporting arenas to support their favorite local team and wealthy franchise owners. The interest earned by investors on these bonds is not subject to federal income tax, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal revenue.

The only loser in this game is the taxpayer. This tax preference for the pros costs the government $146 million in lost revenue every year, in tax exemptions on interest from government bonds for sporting facilities, according to a Bloomberg analysis of U.S. Treasury data."

Navy Sends Hundreds of Magazines to Congress to Promote Green Initiatives ($72,000)

"Currents magazine is the Navy's flagship, quarterly publication showcasing its commitment to environmental stewardship and progress toward meeting its energy goals. According to the Navy, the magazine's publication enables it to 'share best practices/lessons learned and increase awareness regarding environmental compliance and energy efficiency for ships and commands in their daily work.'

Yet for all its efforts to showcase itself as the 'Great Green Fleet,' the Navy still mails out 9,500 hard copies of the magazine every quarter, including 535 to each member of Congress, at a cost of an additional $72,000 a year over the $260,000 it takes the staff of four contractors and federal employees to develop the content."

Texting Drunks Asking Them Not to Drink ($194,090)

"'Btw, don't have 2 much 2 drink.' Researchers have received $194,090 this year to determine if text messages can encourage heavy drinkers to put down that cocktail.

Researchers have acknowledged that other internet-based interventions have 'proven mildly effective but have limited ability to help individuals maintain changes.' They are hoping that tapping into a drinker's cell phone will be more effective in reaching the drinker before problem drinking occurs. For example, some study subjects will get a daily 3 P.M. text message reminding them of the consequences of heavy drinking."

NIH Asks if Moms Love Dogs as Much as Kids ($371,026)

"Science has already shown 'very similar results for human infants' and dogs' behaviors with their mother or owner have been described under high and low stress conditions.' And, bonding has 'been implicated in human-human and owner-dog pairs.'

But apparently never had mothers' brains been monitored while viewing photos of their kids and dogs. This new study was described by the scientists as 'the first report of a comparison of fMRI-related brain activation patterns in women when they viewed images of their child and dog.'"

Paid Vacations for Bureaucrats Gone Wild ($19 million)

Rather than disciplining employees who are underperforming or even engaging in criminal mischief, federal bureaucrats place troublesome employees on 'administrative leave,' where they continue to get paid but are essentially relieved of their duties including having to report to work or do work. A federal employment attorney calls administrative leave "the government's dirty little secret.'

Officially, administrative leave is an 'excused absence' with pay and continuation of other benefits, such as health insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans, that is not charged as annual leave or vacation. In 2014, eleven federal agencies spent at least $50 million paying the salaries of government employees on administrative leave status, one-third of which was for disciplinary reasons...

While administrative leave is intended to be used sparingly for limited periods of time, for many it has become a paid vacation lasting months and even years. More than 1,000 federal employees were on paid leave for at least six months and hundreds were given paid absences from work for a year or more. Nearly 60,000 federal employees received paid leave for an entire month or more over a two year period in addition to vacation time and paid holidays."

NASA's Tower of Pork Protected by Politician ($44.5 million)

"The $350 million A-3 rock- et testing tower completed this year at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi stands as 300-foot tall monument to NASA's current state of affairs. Now that the tower is completed it has no purpose, but will continue to cost taxpayers.

The tower is 'a relic of President George W. Bush's Constellation program,' that was intended to send astronauts "back to the moon and beyond" which was canceled by President Obama in 2010.

That same year, an earmark sponsored by a senator from Mississippi was tucked into a bill passed by Congress, thereby forcing NASA to complete the project even though it was no longer needed. As a result, the useless space tower is being derided as a 'Launchpad to Nowhere' and the 'Tower of Pork.'"

Sen. Tom Coburn's 2014 "Wastebook"

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