In its latest iteration, a report on government waste highlights dozens of examples of expenditures – totaling billions of dollars – considered unnecessary when America's national debt is heading toward $20 trillion.
Believe it or not, the National Science Foundation spent $3 million of taxpayer money last year to find out if the theme music from the 1975 thriller Jaws is responsible for the bad reputation of sharks. The answer, say the researchers, is yes – but the study really calls into question the reputation of whatever bureaucrat approved the grant, according to Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), author of "Wastebook 2016."
"A lot of these studies? They just continue to go on even after the earmarking era. The agencies continue to spend money like this," says the senator.
Following are several examples from among the 50 described in Flake's report:
- $150,000 to see if engineers could build an earthquake-proof gingerbread house
- $1.1 million to figure out how the world's religions would respond to the discovery of life on other planets
- $1.7 million to bring back long-dead comedians – via hologram
- $2.4 million to discover how to get more "likes" and "followers" on social media
- $3.5 million to discover that "fear of pain" is a critical reason that many Americans don't like to go see their dentist
One of Senator Flake's favorites: half a million dollars to see how long it takes the mudskipper fish to recover from marathon sessions on a treadmill. In "Wastebook," he describes that particular study as "the fishiest ... of them all."
"We had monkeys on a treadmill last year; we've had shrimp on a treadmill before; and obviously some people want to know what happens when these fish get on a treadmill," he states. "But don't we have better things to spend money on? I think [that's] the question that most Americans have."
The GOP lawmaker is hoping to put researchers on notice that coming to an end are the days of spending $450,000 dollars to find out if dinosaurs could sing – or $460,000 to teach computers about human behavior by having them binge-watch "Desperate Housewives."
"[So] when they say that we're out of money and we can't have a cutback, we know better," he says.
In fact – alluding to another grant it discusses – the report summarizes the problem this way:
"Just like the monsters in the Pokémon Go game that took America by storm this past year, government boondoggles come in all shapes and sizes and pop up just about everywhere."
All these studies – and more – are addressed in "Wastebook 2016."