Robotic Squirrels, Starbucks, and Marijuana ‘Munchies’: Highlights from Wastebook 2012

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released his annual report highlighting wasteful government spending from the past year.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released his annual report highlighting wasteful government spending from the past year.

Wastebook 2012 is the latest in what has become an annual tradition for Coburn in an effort to reduce what he considers to be wasteful and unnecessary spending at the federal level.

Some of the highlights from the 100 examples in this year’s Wastebook include:

  • Congress
    Coburn was critical of Congress itself saying, “Never before in recent history have our elected leaders in Washington worked less and been more lax in addressing our nation’s problems.” Coburn notes that 83% disapprove of Congress in a recent Gallup poll.
  • USDA and improper food stamp payments
    Drinks at Starbucks, fast food at KFC and Taco Bell, and alcohol were all purchased with federal food stamp funds. A lottery winner in Michigan who owns two houses but has no job received hundreds of dollars in food stamps, and some individuals received more food stamp benefits for using marijuana.
  • Food on Mars
    NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project has developed recipes for about 100 kinds of food that could someday be served on Mars despite having abandoned a manned space fleet with no current plans for human space flight to Mars.
  • Robotic squirrel
    Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of California (Davis) spent a portion of a $325,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to construct a robotic squirrel named “RoboSquirrel” to determine what happens when a snake is confronted by the simulation of the squirrel.
  • Touring yacht restoration
    The port of Los Angeles will be spending nearly $500k in energy efficiency funds to upgrade its tour yacht’s engines.
  • Promoting caviar consumption
    The USDA gave $300,000 to Fish Processors of Idaho to create a website, print flyers, and send the company’s owner to trade shows to help “entice distributors to bring his caviar to the masses.”
  • Lego model street
    30,000 Lego pieces, paid for with a $3,700 National Scenic Byways grant, are being assembled to build a miniature replica of a historic downtown street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
  • Minting pennies
    According to the Department of the Treasury, the cost to mint a single penny in 2012 was 2.4 cents, more than two times the coin’s actual face value.

Speaking on the report, Coburn said:

For the third consecutive year, Congress failed to pass a budget. And, for the fourth straight year, these compulsive spenders charged more than $1 trillion to our national credit card, pushing us to a $16 trillion debt.

The examples of mismanagement, wasteful spending and special interest deals highlighted in this report represent missed opportunities to assist those in need and to shore up the nation’s finances.

As you look at these examples, put your personal political persuasion aside and ask yourself: Would you agree with Washington that these represent national priorities, or would you conclude these reflect the out-of-touch and out-of-control spending threatening to bankrupt of nation’s future?

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.