Five Ways The Federal Government Wastes Your Tax Dollars

government waste, pork barrel spending

Highlights From Federal Fumbles: 5 Examples of Wasteful Government Spending

US Senator James Lankford (R-OK) is a hero for his work exposing wasteful government spending.  For the last three years, the Senator has released a report called Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government has Dropped the Ballie. wasted your tax dollars.

Federal Fumbles documents “instances where federal agencies or departments have wasted or inefficiently used billions of your dollars” in the hope that by identifying areas of fiscal irresponsibility, both Congressmen and constituents will be better able restrain wasteful spending.

This is a great idea.  Frankly, Senator Lankford is doing exactly what the mainstream media should be doing, were it not entirely consumed with reporting on how many scoops of ice cream President Trump eats.  And yes, that was a real “scoop” for CNN:

I realize that most people don’t have time to read the entire document at once (it is quite long), so I’ve picked out a few of the most egregious examples of the government wasting your tax dollars.  They are not necessarily the biggest wastes (in terms of dollar value), instead, they underscore different problems with the way the government wastes money.

If we’re talking about the government’s biggest wastes, may I direct your attention to the fact that Americans were taxed $400 billion over the last few decades to build fiber optic internet infrastructure that does not exist.  Or how about the fact that the US federal government wasted $144 billion in “improper payments” in 2016.  Finally, consider that America has wasted $250 million per day on pointless foreign wars.  If you’re looking for scale, look to these examples.

I’d also like to direct your attention to the Congressional Pig Book.  It is a document created by the nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste which also highlights some of the worst abuses of Congressional pork-barrel spending.

Without further adieu, here are the top five highlights from Federal Fumbles.

The Top 5 Things the Government Wastes Your Money On:

1. Social Security for Chimpanzees: $2.6 Million Annually

In 2012 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its plans to “substantially reduce the use of chimpanzees” in research projects, since “new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary”.  Then in 2015 the NIH it would stop funding all biomedical research conduced on chimps.

Fair enough.  Animal testing should be limited when possible—especially testing on intelligent animals that may possess consciousness.

However, since their “retirement”, the NIH has been on the hook to care for 139 chimps at an annual cost of $2.6 million.  This works out to $18,700 per chimp, per year.  This is more than most pensioners and disabled veterans receive to live off.

Does it really make sense to spend millions caring for chimpanzees when we aren’t willing to spend that lavishly on our own people?  I don’t think so.  Consider that there are nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in America today—$20,000 will change their life, and yet we’re busy wasting money on chimps.

Now let’s be clear: I’m not anti-chimp (I don’t like them, mind you, but I wouldn’t want to harm them unnecessarily).  But when it comes down to the choice between man and chimp, man wins every time.  Not only that, there are many animal sanctuaries, zoos, and private individuals where we could send the chimps. Let’s do that instead of providing them with, which is in essence, chimp social security.

2. Citizenship and Immigration Services Wasted $3.1 Billion Tinkering With Untested Software

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has spent more than a decade trying to update it’s archaic IT system.  In doing so it’s wasted billions of dollars, and caused millions of visa and citizenship applications to be delayed their verdict, causing headaches and economic malaise.

The trouble started in 2006 when the USCIS decided to upgrade its systems.  Work was expected to be completed by 2011.  Now they don’t anticipate completion until 2019, and the total cost is estimated to  be $3.1 billion.

Why the delays and cost overruns?  Bad management, underestimation of cost, and the roll-out of untested software.

The point I’d like to highlight here is that, where possible, the government should use solutions already known to be effective—stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

3. $40,000 Studying How Iceland Cares for Syrian Refugees

Since 2015 Iceland has accepted 60 Syrian refugees.  Why this should warrant a government-funded study is beyond me, but it did.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced in 2016 that it would spend $40,000 on a study to determine what public services the government of Iceland provided to the Syrian refugees.


What possible purpose could this serve the American people?  How is this a responsible use of taxpayer money?  Why not just ask the Icelandic government for free over Skype?

This example provides two lessons: the government wastes money on utterly pointless products, and often it prioritizes foreigners at the expense of Americans.  I could see how this study may benefit Icelanders—but why is America paying for it?  Truly strange.

4. Department of Defense Lost $1 Billion Worth of Military Equipment

The Department of Defense recently reported that it’s lost track of more than $1 billion in equipment including “small arms, mortars, and Humvees, that were purchased for Iraqi security forces.”  Federal Fumbles summarizes the problem nicely:

It would be understandable if the DOD occasionally misplaced a Humvee tire or a toolbox. However, to not be able to fully account for more than $1 billion in equipment that includes guns and entire Humvees is unacceptable and a national security risk. Before allocating funds in the future, Congress should work with the DOD to put in place a system to track equipment from purchase to transfer and every step in between. There should also be consequences for those who do not follow procedures, especially when the result is lost equipment valued at more than $1 billion of your tax dollars.

This is unacceptable, but it’s important that we don’t forget just how much money is wasted on pointless military adventures in the first place.  According to the Defense Department, foreign wars have cost American taxpayers $250 million per day since September 11, 2001.  Some of this was necessary to combat terrorism, much of it was not.

Within this context, $1 billion seems like just a drop in the bucket (it’s just 4 days worth of spending).

5. $1.1 Million for Social Engineering Experiments with Housing Assistance

Finally, the NIH spent $1.1 million in 2016 t assess the health impact of adults and children receiving various types of housing assistance.  On the surface, this seems reasonable—it’s not a whole lot of money, and more information is generally preferable to less.

But the Devil’s in the details.  The reason this made the list is not because of how much money was spent, but how it was spent.  The researchers at the NIH:

manipulated the quality of housing and financial assistance provided to see whether it impacts a recipient’s well-being. The study, which will last and be funded for three years, will compare the health impacts on those who have their assistance altered and those who do not in order to determine the way in which the offer of assistance “affects the biology and health” of recipients.

Essentially, the NIH is performing social experiments on the American people which could have adverse effects on their physical and psychological health.  This is troubling prima facie.

In a university setting it would be very unlikely for researchers to get the ethical approval necessary to conduct such an experiment on unwitting and potentially unwilling participants, but there are no such safeguards in place for the government.  Instead, the government should be relying on “natural experiments” the way most sociological researchers do.

Restraining Government Waste

Those with libertarian inclinations will see the things on this list and assume that the correct solution is to limit the size of government.  While I agree with this, it’s important that we don’t adopt the radical libertarian position: hyper-individualism is just as damaging for society as is hyper-collectivism.

This is not a mere assertion, it’s an objective fact that’s rooted in evolutionary biology and history—cooperative, altruistic societies out-compete selfish individualistic societies.  The trick is to ensure that our altruistic impulses are directed at our own people (American citizens) and do not completely overwhelm the individual.

The relationship between individual and national interests is not an all-or-nothing game, it’s a balancing act.


About Spencer P Morrison 160 Articles
J.D. B.A. in Ancient & Medieval History. Writer and independent intellectual, with a focus on applied philosophy, empirical history, and practical economics. Author of "Bobbins, Not Gold," Editor-In-Chief of the National Economics Editorial, and contributor to American Greatness. His work has appeared in publications including the Daily Caller, the American Thinker, and the Foundation for Economic Education.