The year ended with a record-breaking $3.1 trillion deficit and, as usual, the U.S. government managed to blow tens of billions on a myriad of wasteful projects that should provoke outrage among tax-paying Americans. The area of healthcare takes the prize with nearly $4 billion in questionable government-funded programs that include multi-million-dollar studies on the connection between stress and gray hair, edible marijuana consumption among San Francisco baby boomers and “smart toilets,” to name a few. Millions more were spent on helping people overcome the fear of going to the dentist, analyzing if hot tubs lower stress and messaging mothers to stop their teenage girls from using indoor tanning salons. The extensive list goes on and on with a multitude of examples provided in a lengthy report on wasteful federal spending published by a federal lawmaker.
Titled “Festivus Report 2020,” the document is extensive with 139 pages sprinkled with graphs, illustrations and photos to help the public fully grasp the magnitude of the problem. It was released recently by Senator Rand Paul, an eye surgeon from Kentucky elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. “Congress spent as never before, doing so ostensibly without a care,” the introduction states, adding that the report highlights “$54,746,524,505.37 of totally wasted money.” To put it in perspective the senator’s staff breaks it down, revealing that Uncle Sam wasted the money of 5.4 million people, enough to fill every Power Five conference college football stadium with more than one million people left over and enough to buy every American a 40-inch flat screen television. If 5.4 million people were lined up head to toe, it would span the Appalachian Trail 2.5 times, according to the document.
While the nation’s healthcare institutes were the biggest culprits, the top 10 list is diverse with offenders from the military, foreign aid, science, energy, and other government agencies. They include a costly—and ineffective—counter narcotics effort in Afghanistan, Fish and Wildlife Service subsidizing yachting, developing methods to stop adults from binge-watching television, the loss of more than 100 military drones and a handsomely funded science study featuring lizards running on a treadmill. It gets better. “Researchers used federal funds from grants worth $1,327,781.72 to see if you’ll eat ground-up bugs,” the report says, revealing that cricket powder was utilized in the project. The taxpayer-funded work was essential, according to the publicly funded researchers, because government scientists believe climate change is threatening global food security and they must search for more environmentally sustainable protein sources. Jiminy Cricket!
Another outrageous example embedded in the waste report features a $7 million university project funded by the National Cancer Institute to create a “smart toilet.” Researchers claim the purpose is to develop “easily deployable hardware and software for the long-term analysis of a user’s excreta through data collection and models of human health.” The toilet supposedly operates with artificial intelligence that includes three cameras and a urinalysis strip. Health data is collected and stored in a digital cloud system. Here is how it operates, according to information provided by the senator’s office. The toilet’s hardware and cameras use “biometric identifiers to securely associate the collected data with the user’s identity.” This includes fingerprints, photos, and a video of the user’s “analprint” to track bowel movements. For those wondering how such a preposterous project could receive millions from the government, the grant was issued under the premise that a noninvasive monitoring procedure known as molecular imaging could help detect and manage cancer.
Some of the more egregious foreign aid examples include $48 million to help “disconnected” Tunisian youth, a $10 million program to improve Zimbabwe’s political process, $3.25 million to send up to 50 Russian students to American community colleges and $2 million to set up a venture capital fund in Bosnia & Herzegovina for bad investments. Millions more were blown on other questionable causes such as teaching rural unemployed Romanians English, the production of a play to address social issues in Mumbai, book clubs for Pakistani and Afghan kids and to improve the Tunisian chamber of commerce. In the area of “essential” science research the development a headset to track eating behavior sticks out because it received north of $2 million. The lizard-treadmill study mentioned above received a million and a half dollars to analyze six lizards walking on a treadmill while being X-rayed with 3D imaging technology. The point was to figure out how their joints moved.