Crazy, Stupid Federal Spending!

If you follow wasteful spending stories involving the misplaced priorities of Washington D.C. politicians and bureaucrats, the holiday season brings a special treat. That’s when Senator Rand Paul issues his annual “Festivus Report” on the federal government’s most wasteful spending programs. The report has become a must-read for anyone needing a good laugh at Uncle Sam’s wackier expenses.

Senator Paul’s Festivus Report 2021 certainly provides a lot of examples to laugh at, which collectively cost U.S. taxpayers over $52.5 billion. According to the report, that’s the equivalent of the taxes paid by over 3.4 million average American taxpayers.

There’s no right way to read the report. It’s just as much fun to flip to a random page as it is to read straight through. Since I prefer the random approach, here are my personal favorite wasteful spending examples from this year’s report:

  • A National Institute of Health grant of $465,339 to teach pigeons how to gamble using slot machines.
  • The National Institute on Aging funded a five-year study costing $1.3 million to verify that hearing bad news decreases happiness levels.
  • The Department of Defense provided $250 million spent to enhance border security, including building border walls, in several Middle Eastern and North African countries.
  • $25 million in COVID relief funds were used to launch New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “City Arts Corps”, in which some 3,000 artists will be paid to publicly display their work to “resurge the cultural scene”.
  • The Department of Defense paid $549 million for 20 Italian cargo airplanes that were given to the Afghanistan Air Force in 2008. The planes were scrapped six years later.

If I were one of the artists who will pocket a good chunk of cash from how federal COVID relief funds are being spent in New York City, I would display pictures of pigeons playing slot machines in my public art exhibit. Then, I would tell the attendees the federal government paid for it all and ask them how that affects their happiness level. To whom should I apply to get that federal grant?

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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