Down. The. Drain.
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Down. The. Drain.
narvikk/istockphoto

DOWN. THE. DRAIN.

It’s difficult enough managing your own money without making unwise impulse buys, so when governments and bureaucracies receive billions of taxpayers’ dollars, those splurges can multiply exponentially. These are some of the most baffling ways state and federal institutions have been busted for wasting tax dollars in recent American history.

Earmarks
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EARMARKS

Earmarks for pork spending are one of the most questionable uses of tax dollars Congress engages in all the time, totaling $14.8 billion in 2018. These are provisions to spending bills that circumvent merit-based allocation processes to direct funds to specific recipients, tipping the scales often in favor of powerful lobbying interests within a lawmaker’s district. This year, the figure was up more than 100 percent from the year before.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighters
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F-35 JOINT STRIKE FIGHTERS

After 17 years in development, the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program is seven years behind schedule and $173 billion over budget, making it themost expensive weapon system in history with an estimated lifetime maintenance cost of $1 trillion. But the Pentagon and Congress keep succumbing to the sunk-cost fallacy and spending even more on this weaponized money drain, in 2018 allocating $2.7 billion to produce 20 more F-35s and $842 million to update the aircrafts they were already supposed to replace.

More Tanks Than The Army Knows What To Do With
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MORE TANKS THAN THE ARMY KNOWS WHAT TO DO WITH

In 2012, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told Congress the nation hasmore than enough tanks — so many, in fact, that 2,000 were sitting unused in the California desert. Yet because tank production serves local industries and lets members of Congress take credit for economic stimulus, they’ve earmarked more than $1.5 billion worth of taxpayer funds for the M1 Abrams Tank program since 1994, $593 million of which was allocated just in 2018.

Special Coffee Mugs For The Air Force
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SPECIAL COFFEE MUGS FOR THE AIR FORCE

For a more mundane example of military waste, look no further than the Air Force, which in the past two years spent more than $325,000 on 391 fragile self-reheating coffee mugs. After replacing each newly broken mug at an average cost of $836 per mug, the Air Force later found it could 3D print suitable replacement parts at a cost of 50 cents apiece.

Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (Tiger)
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TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENTS GENERATING ECONOMIC RECOVERY (TIGER)

Like the old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” the Department of Transportation’s TIGER is one federal program that keeps screwing up and getting rewarded with extra funds as a result. They’ve violated internal controls to prevent projects from being used as political patronage, in one case granting $47 million to an Atlanta streetcar project that cost three times as much as projected and created a quarter of the jobs. In 2018, a pedestrian bridge in Florida funded with $11.4 million in TIGER grants collapsed, killing six people. Two weeks later, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill tripling TIGER’s funding.

Studying Beer Koozies
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STUDYING BEER KOOZIES

The federal government often allocates funds for artistic projects and research studies that hardly seem worthy of taxpayers’ troubles. In 2015, for example, two students from the University of Washington received $1.3 million to study how foam koozies keep beer cold in hot weather. Worth it?

Training Fewer Than 100 Syrian Rebels
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TRAINING FEWER THAN 100 SYRIAN REBELS

The Pentagon and Obama administration allocated $500 million to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to supplement U.S. Air Force strikes against the Islamic State in 2015. By the time it was scrapped later that year, the program had established only four to five fighters in Syria with many others surrendering to rival groups, all of whom were trained at a cost of $4 million each.

Making Hamsters Fight
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MAKING HAMSTERS FIGHT

Since 1996, Northeastern University researcher Richard Melloni has received more than $3 million in taxpayer funds from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to make hamsters fight each other while on anabolic steroids and other aggression-fueling drugs. After more than two decades, Melloni’s experiments finally stopped receiving federal funds in 2017.

Maintaining Abandoned Properties
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MAINTAINING ABANDONED PROPERTIES

According to a 2014 NPR report, the government owns roughly 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country whose maintenance costs like mowing lawns and preventing pipes from freezing can really add up. The Office of Management and Budget estimates these buildings could cost taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.

Discouraging Hipsters From Smoking
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DISCOURAGING HIPSTERS FROM SMOKING

Between 2011 and 2015, the NIH gave $5 million in taxpayer funds to an anti-smoking campaign targeting hipsters with advertising efforts that touted things like “styling your sweet mustache” as smoking alternatives. The widely criticized campaign also created a social brand sponsoring smoke-free concerts and events and paid hipster influencers to blog about kicking their tobacco habits.

Paying For Employees’ Administrative Leave
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PAYING FOR EMPLOYEES’ ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE

In a three-year span from 2014 to 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the federal government paid a total of $3.1 billion to employees placed on administrative leave. The primary reasonsworkers received extended, taxpayer-funded time off were personnel matters, including security concerns, criminal matters, and accusations of misconduct.

A Super Bowl Commercial
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A SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL

There’s nothing like a Super Bowl commercial to build awareness of a brand or service, even if that service is a government-mandated survey. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau paid $2.5 million in taxpayer money on 30 seconds of ad space fora head-scratching commercial enticing Americans to fill out their census forms.

Golf Cart Rentals At Trump Properties
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GOLF CART RENTALS AT TRUMP PROPERTIES

In November 2017, USA Today reported the Secret Service had spent about $145,000 on golf cart rentals since President Trump’s inauguration. Most of that spending occurred at Trump’s own properties in Florida, including $7,500 during a one-week Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago, when the Secret Service was already strapped for cash in its role of protecting the president and his family members.

Installing And Removing A Sculpture That Made Workers Sick
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INSTALLING AND REMOVING A SCULPTURE THAT MADE WORKERS SICK

In 2015, the FBI commissioned a 15,000 pound, 17-foot-tall wooden sculpture for their field office in Miami at a cost of $75,000. After at least a dozen workers fell sick and were hospitalized for breathing in cedar dust from the sculpture, the FBI had it removed, bringing the total cost of the debacle to $1.2 million.

An Irs Email Subscription System
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AN IRS EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION SYSTEM

From 2014 to 2016, the Internal Revenue Service committed an audit-worthy mistake by wasting $12 million on subscribing to a cloud-based email software that was never installed on employees’ computers. Only after violating the competitive-selection process outlined in its own regulations did the IRS recognize the new system wasn’t compatible with the old.

Overpriced Genital Pumps
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OVERPRICED GENITAL PUMPS

Medicare wasted $172 million in five years on overpriced penis pumps. Between 2006 and 2011, the government’s senior healthcare service paid about twice the market price on nearly 474,000 claims for vacuum erection systems used to treat erectile dysfunction. Next time they should really shop around and compare prices before buying.

Unused Plane Tickets
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UNUSED PLANE TICKETS

In 2004, the GAO found the Defense Department had wasted $100 million within six years on tickets for flights bought through Pentagon accounts that employeesdidn’t end up boarding. Most maddeningly for taxpayers, those tickets were fully refundable, but travelers too often didn’t report their canceled trips to get the funds recouped.

Afghanistan Projects
Courtesy of npr.org

AFGHANISTAN PROJECTS

Like many war zones, Afghanistan has been the scene of ludicrous government outlays for questionable line items. Since 2002, we’ve spent millions on unsuccessful projects $852,000 on a made-for-TV cricket league, $43 million on a non-working natural gas station, and $60 million on a Marriott in downtown Kabul that sits empty but still requires a heavy security presence.

The Wrong Color Of Camouflage Uniforms
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THE WRONG COLOR OF CAMOUFLAGE UNIFORMS

Among the most farcical instances of misspending came in 2017, when the Pentagon admitted to wasting $28 million on licensing fees for green camouflage for the Afghan National Army uniforms. The only issue was that Afghanistan is 98 percent desert, meaning the lush uniforms would provide the exact opposite of camouflage in such an environment.