While many Americans are making hopeful New Year’s resolutions for 2016 like losing weight, learning a new skill or saving more money, federal agency officials could focus on being more productive with the trillions of tax dollars they collect every year. There is no shortage of ways to do so.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), for example, claims federal officials could save $80 billion a year by implementing the cost-saving measure they propose every week. But agencies don’t follow through with most of those suggestions, and there’s more waste out there than GAO detects.
From solar-powered beer to President Barack Obama’s Hawaii vacation, here are the top 10 wasteful expenditures of 2015:
10. Space camp for Pakistani teenagers — $250,000
The Department of State spent $250,000 to send 24 Pakistani teenagers to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, so they could practice their English skills, according to the latest “Waste Report” by Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
“Space Camp to learn English?,” Paul wrote. “By that standard, doing almost anything in an English-speaking country like the U.S. must qualify. Why not a trip to an amusement park?”
9. Hawaii’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit costs 10 times more than it recovers
Hawaii’s federally funded Medicaid Fraud Control Unit costs 10 times more to operate than its agents recover from Medicaid fraud investigations.
The unit reclaimed about $337,000 from 2011 to 2013, but spent $3.9 million running its operations in that same time period, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
“On the basis of our findings, OIG is concerned about the unit’s ability to carry out its statutory functions and meet program requirements,” the HHS IG said.
8. Empty buildings: $1.7 billion
Americans are spending $1.7 billion each year to maintain empty federal buildings, the Office of Management and Budget estimates. That’s about $53 per person in the U.S., per year. OMB claims there could be as many as 55,000 vacant or underutilized federal properties in the country.
7. Smokey Bear Laundromat: $25,000
The U.S. Forest Service spent $25,000 building a Smokey Bear Laundromat at the Lincoln National Forest in Ruidoso, New Mexico, when the closest privately owned laundromat was a mere one-fifth of a mile away. The price tag only includes the facility costs, not the washers and dryers, according to Paul’s Waste Report.
“Maybe you have anguished over a coffee stain on your pants or prayed an errant blotch of marinara sauce would come out of a white shirt,” Paul said. “Well, it seems the U.S. Forest Service is concerned about laundry too, which is why earlier this year they spent almost $25,000 to build the Smokey Bear Laundromat at the Lincoln National Forest in Ruidoso, New Mexico.”
6. Injecting monkeys with cocaine and other experiments: $150 million
Federal bureaucrats spent $150 million on “scientifically unjustifiable” experiments on animals, according to a report from Animal Justice Project USA and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
Included in the $150 million was a $249,000 grant to the University of Kentucky to determine whether monkey behavior changes when they are injected with cocaine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also gave $1.6 million to the University of California, Santa Barbara, to see if female rats are more likely to become addicted to cocaine than male rats.
5. Solar-powered beer: $200,000
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave grants totaling about $200,000 to a handful of breweries to make beer while using solar panels, according to Sen. Jeff Flake’s Wastebook. Flake is a Republican from Arizona.
The lucky taxpayer-funded breweries include Bitter Root Brewing in Montana, Short’s Brewery in Michigan, the Snake River Brewing Company in Wyoming, and Maine Beer Company in Maine.
4. Obama’s Hawaii vacation: $3.7 million+
President Barack Obama’s annual trip to Hawaii with his family will cost taxpayers $3.7 million in airfare alone, since it takes $206,000 per hour to fly Air Force One, according to Judicial Watch. Last year, the first family’s vacation cost $8 million in total, according to documents obtained by the non-profit government watchdog group.
3. Afghanistan’s useless $43 million gas station
A $500,000 gas station project begun in 2011 in Afghanistan turned into a $42.7 million natural gas station — 8,000 percent over budget — by the time contractors finished the job, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Special Inspector General John Sopko called the project “ill-conceived.” People in Afghanistan have little use for the station, since it costs about $700 to convert a car for natural gas use in a country where the average annual income is $690.
2. Salaries and pensions for VA employees who did unspeakable things on the job
The top watchdog responsible for overseeing Veterans Affairs masturbated in a glass conference room over multiple days in 2009, according to police reports and teachers who said they observed the whole thing.
But a federal prosecutor declined to charge then-Acting Inspector General Jon Wooditch. The former watchdog was being paid $172,000, plus bonuses and benefits, at the time. He is now retired with his full pension. The VA IG recently refused to release the investigative report on Wooditch, citing the Freedom of Information Act’s privacy exception.
Another VA employee, Frederick Kevin Harris, is still on the payroll at a Louisiana VA hospital as he awaits manslaughter charges in the death of a 70-year-old military veteran who died of an apparent beating. An internal investigation absolved Harris of any wrongdoing, but Louisiana prosecutors claim witnesses saw Harris hitting the man.
1. Animas River spill: $28 billion
Taxpayers could fork over as much as $28 billion to clean up the Animas and San Juan rivers after an Environmental Protection Agency contractor spilled millions of gallons of toxic waste under circumstances that remain less than fully understood.
Yellow mine waste has spread hundreds of miles downriver since the initial spill in August, and experts say it could take decades to clean up the mess left throughout the Navajo Nation. The EPA helped send 185 people to prison in 2015 over environmental-related crimes, but has yet to punish anyone over the spill that’s wreaked havoc on an entire region’s environment.