Economy & Business

The Corner

Wastebook Exposes More than $5 Billion in Questionable Federal Spending

Arizona senator Jeff Flake released his annual 200-page catalogue of egregious government spending today, shedding light on 50 unnecessary taxpayer-funded projects from 2016.

Flake’s “Wastebook: PORKémon Go” calls into question multiple research projects conducted by the National Science Foundation (and other government entities), including one in which the NSF and National Eye Institute spent $300,000 of public funds to study boys and girls playing with Barbie dolls. “Researchers were literally playing with dolls to prove what every child already knows — girls are more likely to play with Barbie dolls than boys,” Flake’s report stated.

The NSF also spent $450,000 to research whether dinosaurs could sing and $1.5 million to analyze what happens to fish if they find themselves on a treadmill. In a joint program between the NSF and the Department of Defense, researchers spent $460,000 to have computers binge watch the television show Desperate Housewives in an attempt to predict and understand human behavior. But after the computers “watched” the shows, they failed to have an accuracy rate close to that of humans. “Human subjects correctly predicted the action 71 percent of the time, while existing algorithms scored an accuracy rate of 36 percent,” the report said.

This year, the Internal Revenue Service issued a statement saying “we strongly disagree that the IRS wasted taxpayer dollars.” Yet, the agency spent $12 million on an unused email archiving service beginning in June 2014. It failed to install the activation software.

Flake also classified as waste the funds spent on public relations and advertising, a total of $1.4 billion, because “despite the high cost of these efforts, just 32 percent of Americans surveyed expressed a favorable impression of the federal government.”

Meanwhile, the national debt is approaching $20 trillion.

Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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