The ever-rising federal debt just surpassed $21 trillion last month – at least $65,000 for every person in the U.S. Just how much federal waste, duplication, and weird or unnecessary spending are your tax dollars funding?
It’s hard to know where to begin, but here are some starters.
Delving into the trillions of dollars in annual spending, our government transparency organization, OpenTheBooks.com, recently examined Washington’s discretionary grants system – beyond such big-ticket items as health, welfare and defense. We found that the feds doled out 560,771 grants totaling $583 billion during fiscal year 2016, the most recent year on record.
This means, on average, each grant exceeded $1 million. Not every federal grant is wasteful, but there are plenty that are highly questionable.
Consider these outlandish examples from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the final year of the Obama Administration. (We’ve included the names of the congressional representatives for the zip codes where the grant was received.)
· Sex-Ed for Prostitutes: Barbara Lee, D-Calif. – The California Prostitutes Education Project received nearly $1.5 million from HHS to teach sex-ed to prostitutes. The project seeks to teach prostitutes about safer sex and needle use in a way that’s respectful to its clients’ lifestyle and choices – even though prostitution is illegal in California and 48 other states.
· Designing Condoms: Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass. – More than $200,000 funded a new condom design to address “a lack of adequate lubrication,” currently a “universal drawback” in other condom designs. The grant recipient – a company called Hydroglyde Coatings with the sole mission to design the perfect condom lubricant – should fund its own research and development.
· Video Game for Your Future Self: Robert Wittman, R-Va. – More than $650,000 funded video games designed to “make the future feel close,” allowing adolescents to explore their future selves. These games are titled “My World of Dreams,” “The Valley of Others,” “Disappointment Bridge,” and “The Sea of Hope.”
· Pedestrian Training in China: Terri Sewell, D-Ala. – The University of Alabama received $183,750 to develop a virtual reality platform to teach children how to cross the street – about as far from Alabama as possible.
· E-Diary for Micro-Aggressions: Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. – Northern Illinois University received $173,089 from HHS for a four-week study in which “radically diverse bisexual women” documented their experience with micro-aggressions using a daily e-diary.
Health & Human Services was the biggest porker by far – doling out roughly $4 of every $5 in federal grants. The total grant tab at HHS was $421 billion.
But the waste didn’t just flow from there. Ten other federal agencies doled out more than $1 billion in grants in fiscal year 2016 – and many of these agencies went off-mission in doing so.
· Galactic Animated Cartoons: Mo Brooks, R-Ala. – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded $2.5 million in grant funding to the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission to produce two seasons of “Space Racers,” an animated children’s cartoon in which the main characters embark on several galactic adventures.
· Zoombinis Computer Game: Katherine Clark, D-Mass. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) granted more than $658,000 to redevelop a 1990s computer game called “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis” where children create their own small blue creature – the Zoombini – to help them through adventure challenges.
· Hobo Day: Kristi Noem, R-S.D., zip code 57007 – A grant for nearly $12,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funded South Dakota State’s Historic Hobo Day where students dress up as “hobos” and parade through the streets.
There is more, much more. And now you can see it all for yourself, zip code by zip code, with an interactive map we’ve built at OpentheBooks.com. When you open the tool, you will be swallowed in a sea of red – we mapped every grant to a zip code pin. It may look intimidating – but simply zoom in or enter your zip code in the search bar above the map, click on a pin, then scroll down to see the results.
You can go, for example, to ZIP code 02539. That’s Martha’s Vineyard, a very upscale, affluent Massachusetts island off Cape Cod. The little airport there received $9.2 million in federal grants during fiscal year 2016 – your subsidy to the very rich crowd. (Martha’s Vineyard is a favorite destination of President Barack Obama, old East coast monied families, and the Hollywood elite.)
The point is that the checks are written in Washington, D.C., but they are usually cashed in your very own backyard. Click here to access the map below and search all $583 billion in federal grants.
Recently, we launched this search tool alongside 50 highlighted examples of waste in our 36 page oversight report, Where’s The Pork?
We discovered that politicians in both parties can’t wait to spend your money: pork barrel spending is absolutely bipartisan. In the top 10 grant-receiving congressional districts, five were represented by Democrats while five were represented by Republicans. Of the top 50 grant-receiving districts, 27 were represented by Democrats while 23 were represented by Republicans.
As you search, you’ll even find billions of taxpayer dollars subsidized for-profit companies. Thirty-three companies in the Fortune 100 received $3.2 billion in federal grants between fiscal year 2014 and 2016.
Boeing Corp. received the most: $774 million during this period. But Boeing surely can’t argue that they needed the subsidy… with $95 billion in 2016 sales revenues.
Government waste isn’t new, but things seem more out of control than ever.
So, how do we stop this insanity? Our aim is to give you the tools to hold them accountable for tax-and-spend decisions.
It’s time for citizens to bring the heat, so the politicians will see the light of fiscal restraint.
Adam Andrzejewski is the CEO & founder of OpenTheBooks.com, a non-profit, nonpartisan government financial watchdog group.