The following editorial appeared in the Orange County (Calif.) Register on Friday:
We were saddened to see the consummate government watchdog, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., resign his seat in December due to a recurrence of prostate cancer. Coburn was famed for his annual Wastebook report, the final version of which, in 2014, contained 100 examples of government waste totaling $25 billion.
But perhaps Congress has found someone to take up Coburn’s watchdog mantle. This month, freshman Republican Rep. Steve Russell, also from Oklahoma, released his first “Waste Watch” report. It offers 10 examples of government waste totaling more than $117 million.
Examples include the nearly $700,000 spent by the National Science Foundation to help amateur moviemakers produce “cinematic movies created by manipulating avatars in 3-D computer game worlds,” and the $559,000 the U.S. Agency for International Aid provided over two years to teach Moroccan teenagers “public speaking, team building and conflict mitigation techniques” in an attempt to keep them from becoming violent political extremists (basically, the anti-terrorism version of inner-city midnight basketball programs). Then there are the 6.5 million Social Security accounts still active for people who would be at least 112 years old – on paper, anyway.
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A number of military-related items made the list, which should remind members of Congress, particularly Republicans, that the military is no more efficient with taxpayer dollars than the rest of the government, and that there are plenty of ways to reduce defense spending without “endangering our troops.”
Consider the U.S. military’s $456,669 contract to build a training facility for the Afghan Special Police that started disintegrating in the rain after four months because its bricks were made mostly of sand. Or the $15.4 million the Department of Defense spent in fiscal year 2013 to store more than 500,000 items the military has not used for at least five years. Examples include $21,000 to house a set of gears for an aircraft carrier that is no longer active and more than $8,000 to store for seven years a component of a power mast worth only $391.
Depressing as these cases are, it is heartening to know that someone in Congress still has the gumption to uncover and publicize them. After all, spotlighting waste is the first step toward eliminating it.