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Sen. Coburn's 2011 Gov't Wastebook

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The office of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released the 2011 edition of its annual “Wastebook.” The document spotlights 100 particularly ridiculous expenditures of taxpayer money from the past year. From an entertainment standpoint, it’s pure gold. But it’s also infuriating, depressing, and a painful reminder of what happens when politicians and bureaucrats spend other people’s money.

Here are my five “favorites”:

  • $10 million for remake of “Sesame Street” for Pakistan (U.S. Agency for International Development). Osama bin Big Bird?
  • $350,000 for an international art exhibit in Venice, Italy (State Department). To really appreciate this one, check out the pictures on page 21.
  • An additional $175,587 to the University of Kentucky to study how cocaine enhances the sex drive of Japanese quail (National Institutes of Health). My guess: American quails couldn’t be used because the females are prone to getting a headache at the most inconvenient time.
  • $592,527 for a study on why chimpanzees throw feces (National Institutes of Health). Perhaps NIH can fund a study on how cocaine affects the chimps’ aim.
  • $150,000 for the American Museum of Magic in Michigan (Institute of Museum & Library Services). It ought to be relocated to Washington given the city’s unrivaled ability to make money disappear.

Yes, the money involved here amounts to pocket change in comparison to the $3.7 trillion the federal government spent last year. But as Coburn asks in the introduction, “Do these initiatives match your understanding of the role of the federal government as outlined by the Enumerated Powers of the U.S. Constitution?” Worthy or not, very little of what the federal government spends money on comports with the Founders’ vision of a national government that was to be strictly limited in its scope. That the money is often poorly spent is proof that their intentions were wise.

Check out for more information on many of the agencies and programs cited in the Coburn report.

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst on federal and state budget issues for the Cato Institute.

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