- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

A report released Thursday highlights $1.1 billion in wasteful government spending, including research on the bomb-detecting capabilities of elephants and a study on air pollution from backyard grilling.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, released the report titled “America’s Most Wasted” to raise awareness of government funding going to wasteful programs, especially at a time when agencies are complaining about tight budgets under sequestration caps.

“Washington’s repeat fiscal offenses are leading us down a dangerous path — sending hard-earned American tax dollars to mismanaged and wasteful programs,” Mr. McCain wrote in the report.

In one of the programs, the military gave a $50,000 grant to an elephant facility in South Africa to research if bomb-sniffing elephants could replace dogs on the battlefield because of their keen sense of smell. The report acknowledges that using the best technology to protect troops from land mines or improvised explosive devices is important, but that elephants are likely not be the best way to do it.

“While finding new ways to enhance our bomb detection methods is important, it is unlikely that African elephants could feasibly be used on the battlefield given their large size and sensitive status as ‘threatened,’ ” the report said.

Another instance of waste in the Defense Department found that the National Guard spent about $45 million on NASCAR sponsorships in 2014 at a time when the service struggled to pay its troops and maintain its readiness.

“At the same time that the Guard was running out of money to meet its primary mission and pay its current soldiers, it spent millions of taxpayer dollars on sponsorship and advertising deals with professional sports leagues to support its recruiting activities,” the report said.

While the bulk of recruiting dollars at pro-sports events went to NASCAR, the National Guard also spent $4.2 million on deals with other groups like the National Football League, Major League Baseball and — more obscurely — the Alaskan Irondog Snowmobile Race. The report said the military has shown no evidence that these partnerships actually increase or improve its recruiting initiatives.

The report discovered waste in all corners of the government. The Social Security Administration rightly pays benefits to children still in school whose parents are deceased, retired or disabled, but the report found the agency overpaid more than $225 million to more than 106,000 children who are not qualified for the program.

“With billions of dollars mistakenly going out the door, it’s no wonder we’re facing a national debt crisis,” the report said.

The report also found that nearly $300 billion went to 260 government programs that are no longer authorized by Congress to receive tax dollars. Sixty of these programs, totaling $2.6 billion, fall under the House Natural Resources Committee.

Eleven unauthorized programs costing taxpayers nearly $56 billion fall under the purview of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, the report said.

The congressional report also found waste on Capitol Hill in a $753 million, 10-year renovation project on the Cannon House Office Building and urged “strong oversight” to ensure mistakes made in the delayed, over-budget construction of the Capitol Visitors Center are not repeated.

The report also found duplicative offices to inspect catfish that wasted $14 million, nearly $400,000 on a National Institute of Health website to educate the public about dog bites, a $30,000 grant to the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research to help fund a 10-day international puppet festival in Vermont, and a $15,000 Environmental Protection Agency study to research air pollution from backyard barbecues.

“The EPA’s use of taxpayers’ dollars to further regulate our summer fun should not be a priority for the federal government — especially in a time of limited tax dollars,” the report said.

The report takes the place for former Sen. Tom Coburn’s annual “Wastebook,” which highlighted the most outrageous government spending, after the Oklahoma Republican retired in December.

Mr. McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he also planned to release a report focused specifically on wasteful spending at the Pentagon.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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