It's an economist's tradition — adding up the cost of the gifts from the holiday standard "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Analysts at PNC Bank recently calculate the combined cost of all those leaping lords, milking maids, golden rings and French hens for 2013 at $27,393.17, a 7.7 percent jump from 2012. Springing for the full song — every item each time you sing so you wind up at the end with 12 partridges — will cost you $114,651.
But the federal government has its own version of the song, with contracts, agencies and programs that — with a little stretching — annually throw money at items mentioned in nearly every verse of the song. To wit:
Twelve Drummers Drumming and 11 Pipers Piping: Fife-and-drum corps have long been a part of U.S. military tradition, used to convey orders, keep time to marches or rally the troops. Today, the Pentagon employs the historic units more often to bolster morale, perform at special functions and conduct public outreach. The Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps serves as an official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and most years plays at the National Archives on the Fourth of July when the Declaration of Independence is read.
Ten Lords-a-Leaping: The government has yet to buy any lords, leaping or otherwise, but it does have LEAP, the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership program at the Education Department to give need-based grants and work-study assistance to students.
Nine Ladies Dancing: The federal government is actually a major underwriter of dance programs. Last year, the State Department gave a $1.5 million grant to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to support cultural exchange dance programs, and the Commerce Department gave a $1 million grant to Keshet Dance Company in New Mexico as an investment for public works facilities.
Eight Maids-a-Milking: The government buys a lot of milk for resale at commissaries on military bases, most of it purchased by the Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency. Since 2010, the office has spent more than $1 billion buying milk and dairy products from farms. For the commissaries and its troops, the Pentagon has bought about $326 million worth of milk since 2010.
Seven Swans-a-Swimming and six Geese-a-Laying: Not a lot of birds are bought by the federal government, although earlier this year The Washington Times reported that the feds spent $64 million purchasing turkey since 2010, mostly to feed military personnel. But many scientific offices in the government study birds. In 2009, the National Science Foundation gave $384,949 for research into duck penises, a grant that drew a storm of criticism when it was uncovered this year in an era of cash-strapped government budgets.
As for geese, the government buys a lot of eggs — again, mostly to feed troops — but the Health and Human Services Department also spent money purchasing eggs, which are used in the production and testing of many vaccines.
Five Golden Rings: The government doesn't buy a lot of rings, but it does, unsurprisingly, buy a lot of gold. Since 2010, the Treasury Department has purchased more than $8 billion worth of gold, all of it for the U.S. Mint to create coins and other currency.
Four Calling Birds: Though not exactly calling birds, the government used to use carrier pigeons to convey messages in war zones and across battlefields. Communication is still a large part of the federal budget, but the government has been criticized for spending billions on bringing in outside help. Each agency has its own public relations office, but last year the Washington Guardian and Medill News Service discovered the government had spent $16 billion in the past decade on ads, marketing companies and promotions.
Three French Hens: OK, maybe the government doesn't spend any taxpayer dollars on some things, but the recent craze in backyard chicken raising has state and local governments reconsidering their policies against raising poultry in urban and suburban jurisdictions, including the Washington area's Arlington and Montgomery counties. The faverolle (the classic "French hen") recently earned 4 stars among hobbyists on the popular Backyardchickens.com website.
Two Turtle Doves: Turtle doves are another type of bird in the avian-happy holiday song, but the government has appeared to be more interested in saving turtles. In 2012, the Interior Department gave $1.2 million to support habitat conservation for Hawaiian hawksbill turtles. And in 2010, Interior gave $469,000 to study the effect the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on loggerhead sea turtles.
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree: Although no actual partridges, the bird lends its name to plenty of creeks and rivers that government worked to divert or build bridges over. Pears are more controversial. Since 2010, the Agriculture Department has spent $76 million buying mixed, canned, sliced and diced pears through the Agriculture Marketing Service. The program is intended to help promote American foods and products overseas, but has been criticized as providing free advertising to food companies that are able to fund their own ad campaigns.
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