The federal government spent $4 million per Syrian rebel fighter to combat the Islamic State terrorist group, and $1.2 million to teach robots how to select clothing and dress children and the elderly, according to Sen. James Lankford’s (R-OK) annual report on government waste, fraud and abuse.
Lankford and several other members of Congress have compiled an annual report of wasted spending and incompetence inside the federal government, exposing the waste, fraud and abuse of America’s tax dollars as the national debt increases to nearly $19 trillion.
The wasteful spending spans from unique costs to taxpayers, such as $1.2 million that went toward the National Science Foundation for teaching robots how to select outfit combinations and dress children and the elderly, to $250 million that trained only 60 Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIL) – that’s $4 million per rebel.
Besides studying robots that can dress children and the elderly, the government also spent more than $65,000 on studying what happens to bugs when someone turns on a light in a dark area.
“The debt issue still remains as one of those primary issues,” Lankford said during a press conference revealing his report, Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball, saying the debt issue must be resolved. “It is fixable.”
“Every state has a requirement that they’re going to balance their budget…except for the federal government,” he challenged. Lankford said this book is a “set of solutions” that gives “a list of ideas” on how to solve the wasted government spending and abuse of tax dollars. “With each of the issues, we also lay out a solution.”
Lankford blames a large part of government spending on President Obama who has put forward rules and regulations that “impose significant costs on the American Economy.” For example, Lankford reported that the regulatory burden imposed by the Obama administration’s rules have cost American families an average of just under $15,000.
To put that into perspective, last year, the President signed 224 bills into law but published 3,554 final rules. This means that for every law passed by Congress, the federal government created 16 new rules. These 3,554 regulations impose significant costs on the American economy. The National Association of Manufacturers calculated the total cost of federal regulations in 2012 to be a staggering $2.028 trillion (11 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product). If our $2 trillion federal regulatory cost were a country, it would be the ninth-largest in the world.
The federal government’s wasteful spending was spread across several federal agencies.
For example, in 2014 the Government Accountability Office found that five federal agencies spent $3.1 billion on government workers who were put on paid administrative leave during 2011 to 2013. Roughly $775 million went to salaries of 57,000 government employees that were not working for a month or longer. “This is money paid from taxpayers who actually work hard to earn their salaries,” Lankford’s report notes.
Lankford highlights the government’s “use it or lose it” dilemma, where federal agencies face returning the remaining money in their budget to Treasury, or spending it before the end of the Fiscal Year – September.
Government-wide, between 2003 and 2013, “16.9 percent of obligated contract expenditures occurred during the month of September – more than twice what we would expect if spending were split evenly over 12 months at 8.3 percent per month.” The worst offender is State, which spent on average 37.8 percent of its budget in September, more than quadruple what the average spend-out rate should be.
The State’s September shopping spree cost tax payers: $1 million for a granite sculpture, $20,000 for books as Christmas gifts, $1.5 million in furniture, $26,315 for North Face parkas and $5 million for custom handcrafted stemware.
Another example of government spending came through overlapping entitlement programs.
In 2010 a minimum of 117,000 people received Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance benefits at the same time. “In other words one part of the federal government considered them medically impaired and unable to work while another considered them to be temporarily unemployed and looking for a job,” notes the report. The Government Accountability Office estimated the overlapping benefits wasted more than $281 million in Disability Insurance and $575 million in Unemployment Insurance.
Other examples of government waste, fraud and abuse of American tax dollars include:
- The Inspector General for the Housing and Urban Development uncovered $104.4 million went to families that didn’t qualify for subsidized public housing.
- The Veterans Affairs facility in Little Rock, Arkansas spent $8 million on solar panels, but two years later, the facility tore down the never-used panels to build a new parking garage.
- In 2010, $1.67 billion in tax dollars was spent to maintain approximately “77,700 unused or underutilized federally owned properties.”
- The Internal Revenue Service spent $17.7 billion in improper tax credits.
Much of the government’s wasteful spending was spent overseas. For example, Congress gave $500 million federal tax dollars toward training and equipping 5,400 Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State. However, the Department of Defense (DOD) spent half that money training just 60 fighters. “In other words DOD spent about $4 million per rebel,” Lankford reported.
At least four examples of wasted tax dollars occurred overseas in Afghanistan:
- Roughly $43 million was spent on a gas station in Afghanistan, but because of improper vetting, it was later discovered there wasn’t natural gas distribution in that country.
- The Department of Defense spent $36 million for an empty “unused and obviously unnecessary” 64,000 square-foot building at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
- The Gorimor Industrial Park which cost $7.7 million was turned over to the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency to create more than 900 local jobs, but six years later there are only two businesses with 22 individuals that work at the site.
- Roughly $335 million in wasted power was spent at the Tarakhil Power Plant, “a diesel-fueled power plant constructed outside of Kabul, Afghanistan” that was deemed “severely underutilized” after a federal audit.
Lankford said he hopes Congress brings forward the Taxpayer’s Right to Know Act which would allow taxpayers to pull up government programs and see the costs and evaluations of various agencies and programs.
“You can’t do that right now. That’s not a searchable database,” he explained, saying the Taxpayer’s Right to Know Act would help the public and the press oversea how the government is spending hard earned tax dollars.