POLITICS: PennAve

From the wacky to the infuriating, Sen. Tom Coburn's annual Wastebook catalogs government waste in lean times

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,PennAve,Tom Coburn,Budgets and Deficits

The federal government this year made significant cuts to important services and programs while at the same time wasting $30 billion on frivolous expenditures like the "pillownauts" study NASA conducted to learn the effects of lying in bed all day, a new watchdog report shows.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Tuesday released his fourth annual "Wastebook," a catalog of questionable government spending that is, at best, pretty wacky (funding for "Popular Romance Project" -- $1 million) and, at its worst, infuriating (continuing pay for Army Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter -- $52,000).

Coburn noted in his latest report that the questionable spending continued even while the government was slashing other programs and services to meet the spending mandates of the 2010 Budget Control Act.

The 2013 Wastebook includes 100 examples of what Coburn called fiscal mismanagement that apparently escaped the axe of those sequestration cuts.

"Washington would have you believe everything that could be done has been done to control unnecessary spending," Coburn said in the report. "Had just these 100 been eliminated, the sequester amount would have been reduced by nearly a third without any noticeable disruption."

Coburn lists the 16-day government shutdown as the top example of wasteful funding. The federal government ended up paying $2 billion to employees who were told not to come to work because they were deemed "non-essential."

Coburn said his No. 2 example of waste is particularly ironic.

Officials predicted that the sequester cuts would force the National Guard to trim its force by 8,000 troops. Yet, the Guard this year spent $10 million on a "Soldier of Steel" recruiting campaign that was to be released at the same time as the Superman movie, "Man of Steel." The campaign included video games and fitness videos.

The "pillownauts" are 11th on Coburn's list.

Coburn points out that during the government shutdown, 97 percent of NASA's employees were deemed non-essential and stayed home. Meanwhile, the agency this year paid 20 people a salary of $18,000 each to lie around so that NASA scientists could study how astronauts' bodies would change during a weightless space flight, perhaps to Mars.

"No manned space mission to Mars, or anywhere else, are planned," Coburn said.

Other Wastebook highlights:

-- $325,525 for National Institutes for Health to study 82 couples and conclude marriages are happier when wives calm down quickly during arguments.

-- $1.9 million for "lifestyle" coaching for the Senate staff, including the "benefits of a good night's sleep."

-- $10,000 for the National Endowment for the Arts to support PowerUp, which features more than 50 linemen, electrical technicians and Austin energy employees "in a choreographed 90-minute dance with bucket trucks, cranes and field trucks and a set of 20 utility polls, all set before a live audience."

And yes, there are pictures. See page 32 of the Wastebook. A copy is attached below.

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