March Madness Recap: spending gone mad (rankings 65th-1st)

65 – The SEC plays musical chairs for $3.9 million

According to a report from the Inspector General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the commission spent $3.9 million in 2007 and 2008 to rearrange desks at their Washington D.C. headquarters.  “Taxpayers should be outraged, and we should be wholly mortified, to be wasting such an incredible amount of money and time on this,” said one SEC employee.

64 – Go outside and play with your $2 million wooden arrows! And don’t shoot your sister!

In October 2008, TARP provided the equivalent of $2 million in tax exemptions to makers of children’s wooden arrows.  What’s next…wooden bullets?

63 – I’m so mad I could squish a $2 million grape!

The Center for Grape Genetics in Geneva, NY was given $2.192 million dollars in federal funds in 2009.  New York’s wine and grape industries generate $6 billion in annual sales.

62 – You might be a redneck if…you pay $350,000 to put your name on a NASCAR race car

The Federal Communications Commission paid $350,000 to sponsor a NASCAR driver, as part of its digital TV outreach.  And what gets the most attention in a NASCAR race? The crashes: the FCC car crashed in two out of the three races.

61 – You know what we need? More astronauts…from Hawaii

In 2009 the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii was appropriated $2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii.

60 – It’s a bird! It’s a pla-…nope, giant taxpayer-funded salmon

Alaska is well known for its wasteful spending projects – among them, the notorious Bridge to Nowhere. In 2005, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board was given $500,000 in federal money, which it used in part to paint a Boeing 737 to look like a salmon.

59 – Honey, that’s not exactly the type of role-play I had in mind…

In Florida, $20,000 of federal stimulus funds pay for “Poor for a Day,” a role-play program that simulates what it means to be poor including a life of drug dealing and criminal activity to pay the bills.

58 – You want me to fly coach?! With the people whose money I spend?!

Over a 12-month period in 2005 and 2006, taxpayers were left with a $146 million tab after federal workers insisted on flying in business class (which usually costs 3-5 times as much as coach tickets).

57 – Our kids can’t read or write, but they have the fastest thumbs in the world.

$145,000 of federal stimulus funds were used to buy iPod Touch’s for sixth graders at Somersworth Middle School in New Hampshire. Superintendent Karen Soule said the devices are important to district’s mission of making students more “technology literate.”

56 – If Washington is going to fleece America, could they at least make good sweaters?

In 2009, $206,000 was appropriated for wool research in Montana, Texas, and Wyoming. Since 1995, 13 earmarks have provided $3,417,453 for wool research always in these three states.

55 – Does the dollar store accept food stamps?

The state of Washington sent $1 food stamp checks to 250,000 households in order to claim enough caseloads to qualify for $43 million in additional federal funds.

54 – If there’s one thing our ambassadors need in their mansions around the world, it’s new crystal stemware.

The State Department is spending $5.4 million to buy crystal stemware for American embassies from a Swedish manufacturer.

53 – Have you tried our new House (in the) Red?

Late last year $40,000 of federal money was spent to bolster the wine industry in South New Jersey.

52 – Dude, where’s my taxpayer-funded rental car?

At least 10 members of the House of Representatives spend over $1,000 a month of taxpayer money to lease cars. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri is the biggest spender, doling out $2,900 a month for his vehicle that runs on used cooking oil.

51 – You probably don’t need a tour to find your way around Boydton

Congress appropriated $98,000 in 2008 to develop a walking tour of tiny Boydton, Virginia. The town is less than one square mile.

50 – Not music to taxpayers’ ears

Taxpayers are stuck with the bill to archive the Grateful Dead’s memorabilia at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  The Dead “wanted to go to a public institution because the whole idea of it being public and free was important to them.”  As the Dead sing, “there’s a price for being free” – the university received a $615,000 federal grant for the project and is seeking additional funds.

49 – It’s as if government is dumping money into the ocean…

In a way, they are.  The federal government has spent $3 billion dollars to “re-sand” beaches, though experts find that much of it quickly washes away.

48 – Make sure to keep your travel receipts…all $100 million worth of ‘em.

Over six years the Defense Department spent $100 million dollars on unused airline tickets.  Worse still, even though the unused tickets were refundable, the DOD never sought the refunds.

47 – Wouldn’t it cost less to hire Samuel L. Jackson?

In 2009, $1.24 million was spent on two projects to control Brown Tree Snakes in Guam.  Since 1996, $14.6 million has been appropriated for the interdiction of Brown Tree Snakes in Guam and Hawaii.

46 – Washington dances around the promise of fiscal responsibility

Jacob’s Pillow Dance, a dance festival in Massachusetts, received a $59,000 federal grant to digitally archive its library of dance photographs. (Suddenly, #50 above doesn’t sound so bad.)

45 – Runway to nowhere

An airport in Indiana that offers no commercial air service has received a $5 million federal grant to extend its runway. This is part of the $57.8 million the airport will receive over 10 years in an effort to turn it into a viable option for local travelers.

44 – Breaking the bank at airports’ duty-free liquor stores…

When lawmakers go on trips overseas, they are given a per diem allowance of up to $250. In the past two years, per diem cash totaled somewhere between $375,000 and $625,000. According to Congressional rules, what is not used must be returned to the government. This usually doesn’t happen.

43 – Don’t those memories of the Tigers losing mean anything to you?

$3.8 million was appropriated for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy – a group dedicated to finding a new use for the Detroit Tigers’ former stadium. However, much of the ballpark was demolished in 2008.

42 – Once again, taxpayers are left out in the cold.

A local ice rink in Pennsylvania that houses a minor-league hockey team received $1 million in stimulus funds for refurbishment. The team rounded out its publicly-funded renovations with a $4.5 million state grant, $526 million in city bonds, and $2.6 million in tax credits.

41 – A Dizzying Circle of Spending

Over the past decade, New Jersey colleges have spent almost $14.5 million in taxpayers’ money to lobby the federal government for money. “Taxpayer dollars are being spent to lobby for taxpayer dollars.”
40 – Where else would it be so easy to waste so much money?
Las Vegas is building a neon museum thanks to a $4.5 million federal grant.  The museum will house old neon signs no longer in use.

39 – Pork for pork

A $500,000 federal stimulus grant is funding a project to install solar panels on a livestock building at an Oregon fairground.

38 – The other bridge to nowhere

Stimulus funds will pay for $1 million in repairs on a covered bridge in Indiana that hasn’t carried traffic since 1972.  Add this to Indiana’s Runway to Nowhere, and these stimulus-funded transportation projects aren’t taking Hoosiers anywhere.

37 – Could we get a study on how to spend less?

$762,000 in federal stimulus funds was awarded to researchers at Georgia Tech to “study creativity and improvisation in jazz and other forms of music.” Follow the link to read about other stimulus-funded research in Georgia on swarming ants, lane changing, and more.

36 – I’ll have lobster ready for you when you get back from your walk…Fluffy.

In 2008, the Lobster Institute received $188,000 of federal money.  “One of its major accomplishments has been lobster dog biscuits.'”

35 – When will irresponsibility go extinct?

Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument has received $7 million of stimulus funding to cover the entire cost of a new visitor center.

34 – Spending money to show where you spent money.

Over a one year period, Colorado spent $247,000 of stimulus money on road signs to designate which construction projects were funded by the stimulus.  An effort to prevent the state from posting more signs failed in late January.

33 – You know you’re in trouble when you can’t afford to spend money you have.

Detroit has received $170 million of stimulus money but has only spent $16.8 million.  “Most of the available grants require it to spend money up front and be reimbursed.”  Since the city has a deficit of $330 million, it hasn’t been able to afford to spend the money.

32 – Crops? We’re in between crops right now. They’re, uh, rotating.

A federal farm program has paid $1.3 billion since 2000 to people who don’t farm.  Ironically, the payments were intended to eliminate old and costly subsidies.

31 – Maybe we prioritize roads over country club sports…

In Bozeman, Montana, $50,000 of stimulus money is being used to repave tennis courts.  A local official defends the project:

30 – America’s top problem: so much apple juice, nowhere to put it

juice importer in Delaware will receive $15.5 million in stimulus funds to build new apple juice storage tanks.

29 – Not exactly Avatar…

A $1.47 million federal grant was given to develop a 3D virtual recreation of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

28 – And you thought Atlantic City was just a playground for adults

Federal stimulus funds are being used to purchase $276,000 worth of playground equipment in Atlantic City.

27 – Here’s some money for stealing from me

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began offering employees a $75 gift card to return their office printer to the bureau.  The incentive was meant to encourage more employees to use network printers.  The bureau, however, already owns the printers it is paying to get back.

26 – You beat Level 7! (but failed Grade 7)

Thanks to a $5,000 federal grant, the Linebaugh Public Library System in Tennessee is offering video game-playing sessions for teens.

25 – You will encounter great riches…wasted in your fortune cookie.

As part of a $320 million media campaign, the Census Bureau has included messages in 2 million fortune cookies encouraging participation in the 2010 Census. The cookies are being sent to restaurants and grocery stores in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

24 – This earmark is a real leap of faith

parachute museum in Ohio was earmarked $95,000.  The money will be used to install touch-screens and develop an exhibit to show visitors how to pack a parachute into a backpack.

23 – Another reason everybody wants a “dislike” button

A $500,000 federal grant was used to study how people use social networking sites like Facebook.

22 – Surely this would be considered a tragedy

$25,000 in stimulus money was given to Heart of the Beast Theater, a puppet show in Minneapolis, MN.

21 – Getting a tattoo of Britney Spears seemed like a good idea at the time…

$200,000 was appropriated for a tattoo removal program in Mission Hills, CA.

20 – Are there any tunnels to protect taxpayers from wasteful spending?

A project to build a tunnel to protect turtles from oncoming traffic on a Florida highway has received $3.4 million in stimulus funds.  The millions are, apparently, still not enough to completely finance the project.

19 – Government does its part to make flying a bit more relaxing…

$7.5 million of federal funds were used for a new terminal with stone fireplaces and exposed log beams in a tiny northern Michigan airport.  The airport serves an average of only 72 departing passengers a day.

18 – I think I’ll (fe)breeze right through this museum…

A $1.04 million federal grant will pay for a bathhouse to be converted into a transportation museum in Tuscaloosa, AL.

17 – How many people knew the Oklahoma River even existed?

$1.8 million of stimulus funds have been given to maintain boats used for Oklahoma River cruises. According to one rider “all American people now are having to stretch their dollars that they have coming in on their income, if they even have a job and I just think it’s wasteful.”

16 – This will make it much more convenient for tailgaters…

$9 million of stimulus money is planned to be used to build a foot-bridge between two parking lots near Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts.  “The lots belong to Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who is tied for number 468 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.”

15 – The art of out-of-control spending

The State Department will spend $450,000 of taxpayers’ money for art and architecture exhibitions in Venice, Italy.

14 – Everybody knows the government throws the best parties

$500,000 in federal funds will be used to pull off the celebration for St. Augustine, FL’s 450th birthday.

13 – Headin’ down the wrong track

Taxpayers spend an average of about $32 in subsidies for each Amtrak passenger to make up for Amtrak’s losses.

12 – Maybe they’ll dig up the secret to responsible government?

A $1.47 million federal grant from stimulus funds is being used to look for fossils in Argentina. Which will stimulate what again?

11 – Party cruises must be a top terrorist target

party cruise ship in Boston received $123,000 in federal stimulus money to retrofit the boat to protect it from terrorist attacks.  The owner reacts: “We feel that we’re really a low threat for a terrorist incident. But the stimulus was a nice perk.’’

10 – Sometimes it feels like we’re just dumping money into a river

$4 million of stimulus funds is being used to dump 30 million pounds of oyster shells into the St. Lucie River in Florida.

9 – Makes you wonder how much they’d give to a project that’s actually necessary

In 2007 $2.4 billion was earmarked to build 10 new C-17 jets.  This was just after the Pentagon insisted it did not need anymore of the planes.

8 – Next thing you know we’ll be paying for teachers of teachers of teachers

school district in North Carolina is using part of its $47.3 million of stimulus money to hire math and literacy coaches to train teachers.

7 – You know we have digital cameras now, right?

Elected officials, Cabinet secretaries, and not-well-known bureaucrats get taxpayer-funded portraits drawn of themselves for $7,500 to $50,000 a pop. Often, contracts are awarded without a competitive bidding process.

6 – I used to smoke a pack-a-day…until the government gave me a free cell phone.

Almost $1 million in stimulus funds were used to give out free BlackBerry smartphones to people trying to stop smoking.  The phones will reportedly make it easier for those trying to quit to access a support network.

5 – Not exactly “representative”

In 2009, the House of Representatives approved $200 million to purchase three Gulfstream private jets for top government officials and Members of Congress.

4 – Photoshop is much cheaper than photo-op

Last year, the federal government spent $60,000 an hour for a photo-op of Air Force One over New York City.  Furthermore, the plan was kept secret, terrifying New Yorkers with the sight of a 747 and two fighter jets flying so close to buildings.

3 – I’ll go with James Cameron’s Best Picture nominee version instead…

A $3.9 million dollar grant was given to develop an “Avatar” sex-ed video game for kids 9-14 years of age. “The game itself will make it possible for 9- to 14-year-olds to role-play through ‘avatars’ on a computer screen who make decisions about whether to engage in risky activities as directed by the child playing the game.”

2 – (no title needed)

The National Institutes of Health was granted $2.6 million to train Chinese prostitutes in China to drink responsibly. The aim is to decrease “problem drinking and alcohol-related sexual risk” among participating Chinese prostitutes in China. Did we mention this money is for Chinese prostitutes in China?

1 – Waste tracking waste

The most recent version of, the website built to track stimulus spending, will run up a bill of $18 million.  This is in addition to the $84 million of stimulus given to the Interior Department officetasked with tracking the spending and reporting it on  The site has been widely criticized for providing vagueand sometimes incorrect data. Additionally, some privately-funded sites like and StimulusWatch are arguably much better and cheaper at providing the same information.  According to the company that runs, “13 of the 15 most frequent visitors to are on government computers.” Jerry Brito, co-creator of StimulusWatch, tells us, “StimulusWatch was a volunteer effort. Three of us built it over the course of a couple weeks. No money changed hands, but if I had to put a price tag on it, I’d say we had $10-20k in labor. The server costs us under $50 a month.”

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