- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Department of Veterans Affairs has struggled to find enough money to deliver health care to veterans in a timely fashion but managed to spend some $40 million on artwork at its clinics — just one example of the bum decisions that Sen. Jeff Flake highlighted in this year’s “Wastebook.”

The Arizona Republican, picking up on the project of retired Sen. Tom Coburn, highlighted more than $100 billion in federal spending that he said the government wasted on bad decisions.

Among them were $7,000 that the Institute of Museum and Library Services sent to the Mattapoisett Free Public Library in Massachusetts to help it recommend good books to its patrons, and $1 million spent by the National Institutes of Health to put 12 marmoset monkeys in hamster exercise balls and roll them on a treadmill to monitor their heart rates.

“While primate research can further scientific understanding, this is the kind of monkey business that makes taxpayers go bananas,” Mr. Flake joked in the report.



More serious was the federal financial aid program, which two students in Minnesota used to buy tickets in an attempt to go abroad and join the Islamic State. Neither student managed to leave the country, but they spent $2,000 in education funding on their tickets.

Unlike a similar missive released Nov. 30 by Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, Mr. Flake’s report did not propose solutions to the wasteful spending but instead suggested that some projects should not have been funded at all.

Mr. Flake is one of a number of legislators taking up the waste-watching banner of Mr. Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who, during his 10 years in the Senate, shamed the government into canceling hundreds of millions of dollars in spending.

Mr. Coburn’s project was dubbed “Wastebook,” and Mr. Flake’s version had a “Star Wars” theme: “Wastebook: The Farce Awakens.”

The report from Lankford, who took over Mr. Coburn’s seat, is a compilation of 100 bum spending decisions from news reports, internal agency audits and staff investigations.

The top agency targeted was the Department of Agriculture, with 17 programs highlighted. The National Science Foundation was the runner-up with 15 programs. The Department of Transportation had eight, and the Department of Defense had seven.

One of the most egregious examples for Mr. Flake was the $43 million natural gas station that the Pentagon built in Afghanistan — a project that should have cost no more than $500,000. The station failed because the cost of retrofitting vehicles to run on natural gas was more than most Afghans could afford.

A special inspector general is investigating the Pentagon task force that paid for the fueling station.

“We welcome continued review by [the inspector general] in their effort to ensure the [task force] activities are properly assessed and analyzed,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Defense Department spokesman.

Mr. Flake also highlighted a $5 billion national effort to build more data centers — networked computer servers used for remote storage or distribution of data. He said most of the storage space on the networks is not being used.

Mr. Flake also questioned the $5 million that the National Institutes of Health spent to try to figure out ways to get hipsters — a segment of young adults often characterized as people who wear flannel, facial hair, skinny jeans and off-kilter hats and focus on self-expression and social justice, according to the study’s leader — to stop smoking.

“You have to be careful because they don’t like the government so you have the hide the fact that the government is involved. We have a definition of a hipster and how we define a hipster,” Mr. Flake said.

Messages left with the NIH and the VA seeking comment on their projects weren’t returned.

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