- - Friday, May 30, 2014

Politicians love raising memorials to themselves and their agendas, and never with their own money. For almost a decade, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, has dreamed of seeing his name in lights in Las Vegas, his hometown. He envisioned a state-of-the-art technology research center, managed by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, to turn Sin City into a hub of “green” energy. At taxpayer expense, of course.

Mr. Reid persuaded his partisan friends in Congress to give 122 acres of prime real estate to the UNLV Research Foundation for the construction of a research and technology park to be modestly named the Harry Reid Research and Technology Park.

Three years later, Mr. Reid’s high-tech project was still something for ghosts. What was supposed to be a campus of buildings peopled by scientists and engineers was only acres of desert sand, sagebrush and an occasional curious coyote. To fix this, Mr. Reid did what he does best, spending money, in this case $2 million to build roads and sewer lines at the Harry Reid Research and Technology Park. The money is to pay for elaborate landscaping, lining the roadways (perhaps including a Harry Reid Boulevard to intersect with Harry Reid Avenue) with dozens of date palms.

The spending was pre-emptive corporate welfare. This would appeal to companies eager to locate on Harry Reid Parkway.

The managers of the project promised that the first research offices would open by 2010. Now it’s 2014, and there’s still nothing in the park except for roads to nowhere and the lonesome palms. The UNLV Research Foundation dipped into the federal money pot to pay off the loan it took out to buy $165,000 in furniture and a 58-inch plasma television set for off-site offices, the better to watch the senator on television.

Boondoggles like the Harry Reid Research and Technology Park are common, thanks to a wasteful, ineffective federal bureaucracy known as the Economic Development Administration, an agency Congress has used to direct millions of dollars to pay for pork and corporate handouts to favored constituents.

Despite costing taxpayers $247 million a year, there’s little evidence that the Economic Development Administration actually creates “sustainable job growth and the building of durable regional economies.”

With extraordinarily vague guidelines, there’s almost no limit to what can be funded. One recent project squandered $25 million to support a federal anti-global-warming effort, $18 million to subsidize the domestic seafood industry and $1.5 million to renovate a theater in New Mexico. The agency gave $1.4 million to Massachusetts to promote video games and $900,000 to turn a deconsecrated church building in Miami into a hospitality school. In 2011, the agency spent $2 million to build a culinary amphitheater, wine tasting room and gift shop in the state of Washington.

The agency spent $2.7 million to destroy hundreds of computers thought to be infected with malware. Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican, says the problem goes beyond the agency’s computer system, and the agency should be called the “Earmark Distribution Agency.” He wants it to be disinfected of malware and the empire-building virus, and permanently. This would save taxpayers $2.5 billion over the next decade.

Since certain members in high places of Congress have become addicted to Economic Development Administration earmarks, Mr. Pompeo faces an uphill fight to accomplish all this, but it’s a task that must be done if Congress cleans up its act and does something about the explosion in debt. That would finally do something to eliminate the Harry Reid Memorial Town Dump.