- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

More than a dozen lucky rabbits were given Swedish massages four times a day, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, as part of a study to figure out whether massage can help recovery times after strenuous exercise — a practice Sen. Tom Coburn says makes a mockery of federal spending.

The rabbit massages are one of the hundred wasteful products Mr. Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, identified in his latest edition of the Wastebook, an annual compendium of the ridiculous and outrageous items in government spending, which he is releasing on Wednesday.

Other highlights included the National Science Foundation paying academics to teach monkeys to gamble, government sponsorship of a children’s play about brain-eating zombies and a first-person combat shooting video game the Army developed — but which intelligence officials fear terrorists could use to train their own recruits. Indeed, Hezbollah has adapted the game’s design to train suicide martyrs.

Mr. Coburn’s investigators also found scientists putting mountain lions, monkeys, rats and cows on treadmills. That’s reminiscent of a previous famous item Mr. Coburn spotted that involved sticking shrimp on a treadmill to try to see if tired shrimp were less healthy.

“Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up [with] some of the zany projects the government paid for this year,” Mr. Coburn said upon releasing the report.

In the case of the rabbits, they weren’t put on treadmills but were forced to exercise in order to create stress.

Some of the rabbits were then given immediate massages, some were given delayed massages, and the unlucky ones weren’t given any massages at all. Scientists then tried to figure out if the massages helped.

Taxpayers paid $387,000 for the two-year study, which concluded that other studies were right, and massage seemed to help in recovery — though it wasn’t clear that rabbit physiology could be extrapolated to humans. The rabbits were euthanized at the end of the study, Mr. Coburn’s report says.

In another finding, Mr. Coburn said hundreds of employees who were suspended from their jobs for misconduct are still being paid by taxpayers — to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in salary.

More than 250 employees were put on leave for at least a year yet still collected $31 million in salary, according to data from the Government Accountability Office.

More than 4,000 other employees were put on leave for at least three months from 2011 to 2013, and 53,055 were put on leave for at least a month, the GAO said.

One unnamed employee at the Department of Homeland Security spent 730 days on paid administrative leave over the last three years. The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, had the highest rate of employees taking excessive administrative leave, with nearly 2 percent taking more than the average.

The Department of Agriculture said it needed better guidance from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), but said it will also look at its own policies to see if changes are needed internally.

“Given the high cost to taxpayers, it is important that each federal agency increase its accountability and improve its stewardship of the use of paid administrative leave,” William P. Milton Jr., a human resources official at the department, wrote in an official reply to the study.

OPM said it would try to issue better guidance about who should be placed on paid administrative leave.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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