Many of us don’t mind paying our share of taxes so the government can create or improve things like roads, schools, and public services that have a positive impact on society. However, sometimes, we find that some of these efforts to “improve society” fall into a grey area, and people begin wondering whether or not they are truly helping to improve anything — or if they are simply a waste of taxpayer money.
In his Wastebook 2013, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) found several government expenditures that could be considered a complete waste of money. While a few of these of these expenditures may have some practical use, one may certainly view some of these expenditures as low priority. When you combine all of the Wastebook items together, these expenses total $30 billion. Some feel this money should have been used to bring forth significant change in other, more needed areas, like education or poverty.
We decided to highlight a few of these instance of “wasteful spending” and pose the question, do you think these programs are useful? Are you happy with our money being spent on these types of initiatives?
1. Government study finds wives need to calm down? — Cost: $325,525
Brace yourselves, ladies, this one is a real doozie. According to the Wastebook, National Institute of Health researchers spent around one-third of a million dollars researching 82 married couples in efforts to evaluate certain dynamics of marriage. They found that “the marriages that were the happiest were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly during marital conflict.”
The Wastebook goes on to explain more of the research: “When couples encounter strongly negative emotional events (e.g., anger arising from disagreements, disappointments, and perceived betrayals) they often fall into primitive, survival-oriented mode of interaction.” Maybe?
The kicker here is the findings pertaining to conflict resolution. The researchers assert that marriages where wives are able to “calm down” have “greater current levels of marital satisfaction for both wives and husbands” and also “greater marital satisfaction over time for wives.”
But, a husband’s “downregulation of negative emotion” (or should we say “calming down”) did not bring about a significant increase in marital satisfaction for the husband or the wife. The Wastebook also says the researchers acknowledge the study has several limitations.
2. A luxury bus stop — Cost: $1 million
Another item that stood out in the Wastebook is a Virginia-based bus stop complete with heated seating and sidewalks. The “super-stop” also has wireless areas for personal computers, but is only has room to accommodate around fifteen people.
In spite of the stop’s amenities, and “a wall made of etched glass [which] opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping,” according to the Wastebook, it does lack some practicality. Its roof barely protects from inclement weather or from the heat of the sun.
One commuter inquisitively asked “Is it made of gold?” about the luxury stop, as its price tag is higher than two or three single family homes combined. After a great deal of scrutiny, the project was reviewed and local officials determined that successors to the million dollar bus stop will be cheaper and more efficient.
3. Custom glassware — Cost: $5 million
The “United States international relations, national interest and success are, in part, built upon the ability of our ambassadors to entertain host country nationals in our embassies and residences abroad,” reads the Wastebook, which also cites this as a reason for the State Department awarding a large contract for “custom, hand-blown crystal stemware and barware for its embassies.”
A $5 million, multi-year contract went to Simon Pearce, a Vermont-based glass maker who specializes in such work. The purchase received a lot of scrutiny, especially because it occurred right before the government shutdown. “[T]here was no sort of $5 million midnight purchase trying to get it just in under the wire,” a state department spokesperson said to CNN. “This contract was not connected in any way to the shutdown.”
4. Army reality show — Cost: $9 million
Starting Strong is an Army reality show, with a twist of infomercial. It aired nine episodes on Fox from June 2, 2013 to August 4, 2013 in sixteen markets. You can also catch it on Facebook or YouTube, and it’s actually not that bad. However, it didn’t do too well, and as of the time of publication, episode one has less than 80,000 views on YouTube.
The show hoped to shed a little light on what joining the Army is like, and, maybe, attract some new faces. But the Wastebook articulates potential taxpayer concerns really well when it says: “In the same month that the Army announced a plan to cut 80,000 troops from its ranks to reflect the country’s military needs and budget restraints, it was also testing a new method of advertising to attracting young recruits…at a cost of $9 million of taxpayer funds.”
5. Goat-tracking devices — Cost: $150,000
“Glacier National Park, in partnership with the University of Montana and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, will continue mountain goat research activities this summer in the Logan Pass area. The three-year research study began late summer of 2013 to identify how mountain goats are affected by roads, people, and trails near Logan Pass,” reads the park’s webpage.
Apparently, it’s pretty common to see a goat at Glacier National Park. Researchers want to know why that is, so, they decided to place GPS tracking devices on goats and track their movements. The end goal is to find out: “whether the same or different goats use Logan Pass and the Highline Trail area yearly, [the] timing of movements into and beyond the Logan Pass/Highline Trail area, [and the] relationships between goats and humans, particularly patterns of habituation and goat-directed aggression, if at all, to humans.”
6. Psychic for stamps — Cost: $566,000
Best-selling author and futurist Faith Popcorn has made some rather interesting predictions. For instance, her predictions about “[m]echanized ‘hugging’ booths [that] will take the place of pay-phones in many cities,” according to the Wastebook, may be a little silly. However, her predictions from the early 2000s about food coaches, male vanity, and extreme sports were pretty close.
In efforts to keep “relevant, interesting and integral,” the Postal Service contracted Faith Popcorn to look into the future of stamps. Her bill? Around $836 per hour.