$2 million study of pandas in China part of government waste report

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, released a report this week identifying 100 programs he calls “Federal Fumbles.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, released a report this week identifying 100 programs he calls “Federal Fumbles.”

A report released this week claims to tally $247 billion in wasteful and inefficient federal spending and regulations into a football pun-laden report heavily critical of fraud, and taking swipes at arts and science spending.

“Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball,” was assembled by U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, who said Donald Trump’s election as president signaled “a bold new direction for Washington.”

“Although the federal debt wasn’t a major focus during the presidential campaign, it remains a serious impending crisis that must be addressed,” he said. “In Fiscal Year 2016 alone, we had a $587 billion deficit and our federal debt is now an outrageous $19.5 trillion.

“To lower the debt, we need to grow the economy, and we must root out inefficiencies, duplication, and wasteful spending wherever they exist.”

The feds could save money by taking others’ advice, such as that offered by inspectors general across federal agencies.

Every year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and IGs make all kinds of recommendations to save taxpayer money, many of which are placed on shelves to collect dust. We wrote about this in 2012 and 2013.

“In 2015, agencies successfully implemented 79 percent of GAO recommendations, which saved American taxpayers a record $74.7 billion,” Lankford’s report says. “However, agencies still leave thousands of recommendations and the potential for billions in savings on the table each year.”

Five highlights of Lankford’s report:

1. Shakespeare and panda bears

Common foils in the report are the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Science Foundation for silly-sounding projects such as $200,000 spent by NSF to study how people respond to failure (spoiler: not well), and $35,000 by the NEA to celebrate Iranian art.

Shakespeare adaptations also didn’t fare well. The report skewers a $10,000 tab for a mimeographed version of Twelfth Night – which wasn’t much better received by theater critics – as well as $90,000 spent on all-male and all-female remakes of plays by the bard meant to examine gender identity. Another $495,000 was spent by several agencies on a temporary exhibit on the sights, tastes and smells of medieval art.

Lampooned scientific studies include $2 million spent to study how kids like their food (spoiler: not sneezed on); $200,000 studying Tanzanian eating habits 500 years ago; and $2 million studying the effect of climate change on Chinese pandas.

The report recommends agencies such as NEA and NSF set clear guidelines about their agency’s mission and track how well such spending meets that mission.

2. Air Force contracting fubar

Meanwhile, the report notes, the U.S. military misspends millions by not properly contracting for goods and services.

In February, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General looked at Air Force contracts at a base in Georgia valued at more than $590 million and found contracts were improperly negotiated or written resulting in overpayment between $9.6 million and $24.9 million.

The review included a tiny fraction of the $400 billion in federal contracts entered into every year — much administered through Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — suggesting the problem could be much bigger.

3. Disability kickbacks

Another massive federal program found to be lacking oversight is the Social Security Administration.

The report notes that Social Security disability rolls have skyrocketed in recent years, overseen by thousands of administrative law judges. But one of these judges was indicted this year of defrauding Social Security out of $600 million as both an attorney and a judge.

There were plenty of clues something was awry long before he steered half a billion dollars to his clients, the report says, including tips from co-workers and an approval rate nearing 100 percent.

4. Failure to launch

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms recently spent $600,000 to purchase six drones that they then didn’t use, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s IG.

“(ATF) encountered a series of technological limitations … and concluded that the (drones) were unsuitable to support operations,” the report says.

5. Selling Christmas

Finally, just in time for Christmas, Lankford’s report humbugs a program encouraging people to purchase something millions of Americans buy every year: Christmas trees

The 2014 Farm Bill crated a Christmas Tree Promotion Board to market holiday pines. It will be paid for with a tax starting this year on tree farmers.

Lankford's release of the 154-page report Monday carries on the tradition of his predecessor, Tom Coburn, who borrowed ideas from the I-Team on occasion for his annual Wastebook (until we asked him how much his office spent assembling it). No examples from Ohio made the list this year.

“This is the way the federal government has dropped the ball,” Lankford said of the report, “and what we are trying to focus in on, is not trying to pick on one particular agency or entity, but to say we have got to be able to pay attention.”

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