Coburn Report Reveals Waste | Citizens Against Government Waste

Coburn Report Reveals Waste

The WasteWatcher

During his 17 years as a senator and representative, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has established himself as a staunch opponent of frivolous federal spending. His annual Wastebook has regularly provided valuable information for taxpayers regarding the specific ways the federal government wastes money. Released in October, Wastebook 2012 highlights 100 projects costing taxpayers more than $18 billion.

One of Sen. Coburn’s perennial targets is the National Science Foundation (NSF). The report disclosed a San Diego State University and University of California-Davis project that used some of the money from a $325,000 NSF grant to build a robotic squirrel to study the contact between squirrels and rattlesnakes. Although one wonders whether the researchers might have simply observed such interactions in the wild (or turn on Animal Planet), taxpayers should be relieved to know that the project will contribute to public outreach, mentor students, and pave the way for future robotic animals.

In an attempt to reduce memory loss over time, the NSF used part of a $1.2 million grant to fund research into the effect of adults playing “World of Warcraft,” a video game involving orcs, elves, and trolls. The North Carolina study asked 39 adults ages 60 to 77 to play the video game for two hours a day over a two-week period. Researchers “found no cognitive improvement in older people who already scored well on cognitive tests,” though individuals who began with lower results “experienced some improvements.”

For those taxpayers longing for days gone by, the NSF provided an opportunity to relive high school by creating the video game “Prom Week.” The game allows players to get “a date with that cute boy in algebra class” or to convince “Buzz to give Monica a second chance.” Prom Week was created in California with a portion of a $516,000 NSF grant.

In Senator Coburn’s home state of Oklahoma, the Lake Murray State Park Airport receives an annual payment of $150,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), despite averaging just one flight per month. Over the past five years, the airport received $750,000 from the FAA, but the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission has spent only $5,546 on the airport, allocating the rest of the money to other facilities.

Finally, Sen. Coburn detailed a September 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that estimated between $1 billion and $50 billion in annual overpayments for products and services by the government agencies. The Office of Management and Budget in 2005 created the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) in order to utilize the government’s massive buying power, spread across multiple agencies, to leverage savings. However, the GAO found that agencies rarely use the program. Only $339 million in orders went through FSSI out of the approximately $500 billion spent on products and services in 2011. When agencies did use FSSI, they saved 18 percent. According to the GAO, “Agencies act more like many unrelated medium-sized businesses and often rely on hundreds of separate contracts for many commonly used items, with prices that vary widely.”

When the post-election lame duck session begins, members of Congress will debate how best to reduce the budget deficit. Sen. Coburn’s report provides a good starting point for these discussions.

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