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Federal Government Awash in Waste: Rabbit Massages, Paid Vacations, Billions Lost to Fraud
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn listens to a question during a town hall meeting at Oklahoma City Community College's Visual and Performing Arts Center in Oklahoma City, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billings) AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billings

Federal Government Awash in Waste: Rabbit Massages, Paid Vacations, Billions Lost to Fraud

"[T]he problem again isn't just what Washington isn't doing, but what it is doing."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Wednesday released a grim report that finds the federal government guilty of wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money each year — in many cases, the report argues, because federal agencies have completely lost sight of their missions.

Coburn's fifth Wastebook Report will be his last as a sitting senator, as he will retire at the end of the current Congress. But he'll leave after handing Congress another blueprint on how to save money, if anyone cares to implement it.

"Washington politicians are more focused on their own political futures than the future of our country," Coburn wrote in the introduction to the report. "And with no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem again isn't just what Washington isn't doing, but what it is doing."

Coburn noted that as the world becomes more dangerous and chaotic — due to Russia's military aggression, Ebola and the Middle East, among other factors — many federal agencies seem to be squandering precious federal dollars, while Congress has done little to get them back on track.

One example of Washington's mixed priorities can be found in NASA, Coburn wrote.

"NASA no longer has the ability to send astronauts into space," he said. "The agency now pays Russia $70 million per passenger for a round trip fair to the international space station where the 'design and creation of better golf clubs' is among the studies being conducted."

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn on Wednesday released his latest report on government waste, which outlines the spending patterns of a federal government that long ago lost its way. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billings)

Similarly, the Coast Guard has reduced drug and migrant interdictions, and instead offers free patrols for private yacht parties. The National Institutes of Health said it lacks funding for an Ebola vaccine, but spent money giving Swedish massages to rabbits, the report added.

And money may soon be running out, if the actions of the IRS are any warning. "While the IRS was politically targeting Tea Party groups by putting the nonprofits under excessive scrutiny, the agency readily handed over $4 billion to identify thieves because it neglected to spot thousands of bogus tax returns," Coburn wrote.

Coburn's report has plenty of examples of petty waste — those useless government activities that cost only a few hundred thousand dollars. Aside from spending $387,000 to massage rabbits, the government spent $331,000 to see if people would stab voodoo dolls when angry and hungry at the same time.

It spent $171,000 to study the gambling habits of monkeys. That study showed that monkeys share "our unfounded belief in winning and losing streaks."

And, it spend $371,026 to see if mothers love dogs as much as they love their children.

But the report said the waste can be counted by the millions and billions of dollars. Below are some of the more expensive examples of waste found in the report:

DOD Tries to Build Real-Life Iron Man Suit

The report said the Defense Department has set aside $80 million to build a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, and is collaborating with Hollywood costume designers along the way.

The initiative has $80 million to spend over four years, but one industry source said $1 billion would be needed just to make a prototype.

Paid Vacations for Bureaucrats Gone Wild

Just this week, the Government Accountability Office said 236 workers took 1 to 3 years off in paid leave over the last three years. Coburn noted that many get paid time off for being bad guys, and said the Department of Veterans Affairs is of particular concern in this area.

"Other VA employees were put on paid administrative leave for sexually abusing a female patient, causing a fatal car crash as a result of driving drunk, sexting on government computers, paying for booze and personal items on government charge cards, taking a patient being treated for addiction to a crack house and hooking him up with drugs, and failing to do their jobs," it said.

Food Stamps Traded for Cash and Drugs, Go to People Who Hide Higher Incomes

The report cited examples in several states, including Tennessee, where someone created fake food stamp accounts that she traded for cash. Fraud schemes elsewhere net people millions of dollars. The report estimated the level of waste related to food stamp fraud at about $3 billion.

Promoting U.S. Culture Around the Globe with Nose Flutists

Coburn cited the $90 million spent by the State Department each year on cultural exchange programs, which he said recently included a musical exchange that involved a nose flutist. In 2012, State gathered musicians from around the world in Florida, where they participated in a flash mob.

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