Over the past 12 months, Washington politicians argued, debated and lamented about how to reign in the federal government‘s out of control spending.
All the while, Washington was on a shopping binge, spending money we do not have on things we do not need, like the $6.9 billion worth of examples provided in this report. The result:
Congress deadlocked over whether or not savings could be found by closing loopholes within the complex tax code. Meanwhile, the IRS approved
roughly $1 billion in tax credits intended for energy efficiency home improvements to individuals who did not even own a house. These recipients
included prisoners and children, some probably not even old enough to own a doll house.
While Congress bickered over whether or not the salaries of federal employees should be frozen, the federal government paid $120 million to federal
Almost $800,000 of federal taxpayer funds went to subsidize ?pancakes for yuppies? in the nation‘s capital. An An International House of Pancakes (IHOP) franchise was built with financial assistance courtesy of Uncle Sam.27 It was intended to help an ?underserved community.?28 The federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), ?$500,000 of the $765,000 grant was used as an equity injection in DC Pancakes LLC for a 19% ownership interest.? 29 The remaining funds went to training costs for new employees, and other consultants.
The new IHOP is not located in an ?underserved community? but a popular Washington D.C. neighborhood. The neighborhood is Columbia Heights, which has become a local shopping hot spot for some and ?one of Washington‘s more desirable neighborhoods.?31 Other businesses in the area include Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, and Starbucks. The restaurant chain is best known for its ?world famous? buttermilk pancake flavors. Options on the menu include chocolate chip, CINN-A-STACK, and New York Cheesecake pancakes.
Observers noticed that ?in this day of anti-obesity crusades, the secretary of Health and Human Services used her own discretionary grant money to subsidize a restaurant that serves two of Men's Health magazine‘s 20 most unhealthy restaurant dishes.
Extreme Home Makeover: Federal Highway Funds to Transform Abandoned “Rock House” into Visitors Center – (OK) $529,689 The Talimena Scenic Drive is a 54-mile stretch of scenic highway that runs from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas.
Indeed, some consider it one of the region‘s most beautiful landscapes, and say it offers one of the nation‘s most vibrant fall color tours. That may explain why the area has three federally funded visitors and interpretive centers.
But even the most rabid fans of the Talimena Scenic Byway are probably at a loss why the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) thinks the area needs a fourth visitors center, at a cost to federal taxpayers of more than half a million dollars.
Indeed, the USDOT‘s National Scenic Byways program has awarded the Talihina, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce $529,689 to convert an abandoned ?rock house? in the community into the Talimena Scenic Drive Interpretive and Visitors Center.
The The total cost of upgrading and renovating the dilapidated rock house is $652,740, more than 14 times the value of the median home in Talihina, a town of about 1,200 residents.
The federal grant for a duplicative visitor center makes even less sense when one considers that the scenic Talimena Drive isn‘t the most the pressing transportation need in eastern Oklahoma: its crumbling road infrastructure makes the area 8th in the nation for its number of ?structurally deficient? bridges.
Fruit Growers Receive Money for Celebrity Chef Show in Indonesia – (WA) $100,000
Even though the connection between celebrity chefs and spurring economic growth is tenuous, at best, the Washington State Fruit Commission received $100,000 in federal money for a ?Celebrity Chef Fruit Promotion Road Show in Indonesia The event is designed to raise ?consumer awareness through promoting our fruit in cooking recipes and demonstrations done by ?Celebrity Chefs. Indonesia was selected because it is seen as ?an emerging market with immediate potential of increased sales opportunities? for cherries, apples, and pears.
According to the Center for Tropical Fruit Studies at Bogor Agricultural University, however, Indonesia produces twice the amount of fruit the country consumes. Further, the fruit-of-choice of most Indonesians is the banana.
The Washington organization‘s plan would include participants from the Washington State Fruit Commission, Washington Apple Commission, and the Northwest Pear Bureau. Groups wanting to host a celebrity chef would be ?required to sponsor their own in-store Fruit Fair with large displays, specialized point of sale, and sampling.
Remake of “Sesame Street” for Pakistan – (U.S. Agency for International Development) $10 Million
In 2010, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, a Pakistani arts organization, was awarded $20 million over the next four years, to create ?130 episodes of an indigenously produced Sesame Street. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided the first $10 million for the project in FY 2011. The Pakistan Sesame Street would be produced in cooperation with Sesame Workshop , creators of the original Sesame Street. According to news sources, the show will be renamed ?SimSim Humara? and set in ?a lively village in Pakistan with a roadside tea and snacks stall, known as a dhaba, some fancy houses with overhanging balconies along with simple dwellings, and residents hanging out on their verandas.
The only character adopted from the original Sesame Street will be the furry red monster Elmo. The rest of the puppet cast will be made up of new local characters, including a conceited welldwelling crocodile named Haseen O Jameel, a ?spirited adult woman, Baaji, who enjoys family time and tradition, and Baily, a hard-working donkey who longs to be a pop star.
Faizaan Peerzada, the head of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop defended the $20 million project, saying ?The idea is to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning, and inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated, Besides the television show, the grant also includes funding for the following:
? ?Radio programs based on the main puppet characters
? ?A dynamic website where children can ?interact‘ with their favorite puppet characters
? 600 events with ?live puppet performances using vehicles with trained puppeteers performing shows?
? 600 events with ?mobile video vans displaying pre-developed puppet-based programs to children and communities?
? 9,000 small gatherings involving ?thirty trained District Ambassadors playing video shows using laptop computers. The television and radio shows will include 78 shows in Urdu and 13 shows in each of the four major regional languages.
Critics Question Why Taxpayer Money Went to an International Architecture Firm – (CA) $1 Million
Los Angeles redirected $1 million in taxpayer money intended to help the city‘s homeless and low-income residents to a wealthy international architecture firm designing a NFL football stadium.
The funds came from a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which the Department of Housing and Urban Development administers. Specifically, the city of Los Angeles committed $1 million in CDBG money to facilitate the relocation of the Architecture firm from Santa Monica to Los Angeles.86 The company, Gensler, employs approximately 2,800 people and its revenues exceeded $460 million last year. LA Weekly reported the company will spend the money ?to create a hip, new atmosphere? for its employees at the ??jewel box,‘ a three-story building nestled between two skyscrapers at City National Plaza.
?According to city documents, Gensler has agreed to a modest, and very vague, payback: In return for the $1 million in renovation funds, it will hire an unspecified number of temporary, low- to moderate-income workers to do the job.?89 In September, HUD clarified that Gensler is eligible for the funding if they create 29 new jobs, 15 of which are held by low or moderate income workers. A former U.S. Housing and Urban Development employee said, ?There‘s no way, shape or form that the money should be going to a multinational corporation? and ?The city is really pushing the envelope on this.
Documentary About How Rock and Roll Contributed to the Collapse of the Soviet Union – (CA) $550,000
?Governments, they come and go—but rock ?n‘ roll will never die.?92 So says rock legend, Pete Anderson, in an upcoming documentary about the influence of rock music on the downfall of the Soviet Union.
The upcoming film by director Jim Brown, titled Rockin’ the Kremlin, which will show how rock and roll contributed to ending the Cold War, was awarded a federal grant to the tune of $550,000 to help complete the project. With a running time of 90 minutes, and slated for release in May 2012, the film has received more than $6,000 per minute.
According to the director, ?The film focuses on cultural diplomacy and soft power, and the role that rock and roll had in ending the Cold War.
It will document the arrival of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the Soviet Union during the late 1970‘s, following its successful album, Will the Circle be
Unbroken. According to the director, ?When they got over there they were treated like the Beatles.
The documentary is being produced with the help of the Grammy Museum of Los Angeles and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
TVs and Gas Generators for Rural Vietnamese Villages – (PA) $702, 558
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University at University Park wanted to fill a perceived gap in existing research about ?the causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health.?98 Establishing that link with conclusive empirical research is difficult to do in the United States since most people have televisions. To carry out their work, the researchers identified 14 villages in ?a remote, mountainous area of Vietnam that currently lack electricity. Then, using a grant of over $700,000 from the National Institutes of Health in 2011, they gave TVs and gasoline generators to families in seven of those villages.100 People living in the other seven villages did not receive generators or TVs. The team will follow the villages for three years, surveying 4,200 people during that time. With these taxpayer dollars, the team seeks to examine the ?causal impacts of television on family formation? and on ?reproductive health knowledge? and activity as well the ?specific mechanisms through which television effects operate.?101
To date, the team has received more than $1.3 million from American taxpayers to perform the
Children, Prisoners, and Others Who Don’t Own Homes Awarded Energy Efficient Home Improvement Tax Credits (Internal Revenue Service) – $1 Billion
As much as $1 billion or more in tax credits for energy efficient residential improvements are being claimed by individuals with no record of owning a home, including prisoners and underage children.
The total amount improperly claimed this year or previously is unknown. But based upon a review of a statistically valid sample by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), 30 percent of the individuals who claimed the credit ?had no record of owning a home. Nearly a half-a-million dollars of tax credits were being claimed by hundreds of prisoners and children within the TIGTA sample.
TIGTA determined the prisoners who filed tax returns were allowed Residential Energy Credits by the IRS, even though they were in prison for all of the year in which the energy-saving improvements were purportedly made.
?Contract law generally exempts children under the age of 18 from being bound by the terms of a contract,? according to TIGTA. However, the sample analysis ?identified 100 individuals under the age of 18 (26 of these were under the age of 14) who were allowed $61,091 in Residential Energy Credits. The youngest individual receiving the credit was 3 years old.?112In effect, the IRS approved tens of thousands of dollars of tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements to children, some not even old enough to own a doll house.
The TIGTA analysis found ?the IRS cannot verify whether individuals claiming Residential Energy Credits are entitled to them? and does not even require applicants to provide any proof of the costs claimed for energy efficiency improvements made to their residence.
TIGTA noted the IRS has data that can be used to identify prisoners, underage children, and others improperly claiming these credits. To address these findings, the IRS has agreed to begin requesting specific information about the homes, including the address, for which these credits are being claimed.
Stimulating Online Soap Operas – (Department of Commerce) $936,818
It remains unclear how many American jobs were ?saved or created? by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of, but we now know that the stimulus at least put actor Billy Dee Williams back to work.
The Department of Commerce awarded $28.5 million to One Economy Corp. ?to generate broadband adoption in under-served communities. One of the projects funded by One Economy Corp118 was to create a web-based television series, ?Diary of a Single Mom, which ?chronicles the lives and challenges of three single mothers and their families trying to get ahead despite obstacles that all single mothers face, such as childcare, healthcare, education, and finances. The cast includes famous actor Billy Dee Williams.
One Economy Corp. spent $706,065 to produce the series and paid Townsend Entertainment, Inc. $230,753 to direct the show.
Every day, single mothers in the real world must find ways to balance family and finances and would be better served with practical assistance rather than federally funded access to on-line soap operas.
Taxpayer Dollars Go to Promoting Christmas Trees – (MI) $75,000
?Yule? be happy to know that $75,000 of your tax dollars went to ?increase awareness about the role Michigan plays in the production of trees and poinsettias. It is unclear why the state needs help promoting a very successful industry. The $40 million industry is the third largest in the nation in total trees harvested with about 3 million trees.
The state also grows more than 2.3 million Poinsettias‘ annually. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) teamed up with the Michigan Christmas Tree Association in hopes of increasing sales of locally grown Christmas trees. They plan to launch a large marketing campaign, including a website, aimed at promoting the local economy, raising awareness about the environmental factors involved in using fake trees, and increasing awareness of the emotional benefit of having a real tree and poinsettias in the home.
Taxpayer Money Supports an International Art Exhibition – (Venice, Italy) $350,000
The U.S. State Department awarded $350,000 in federal funds for the U.S. Presentation at the 54th International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy, which lasted from June 4 through November 27. The agency selected a collaboration by a Spanish-speaking team living and working in Puerto Rico, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. The exhibits of these artists ?will feature new commissions incorporating interactive sculpture, performance, and sound elements.
Designed to offer rich opportunities for dialogue and interaction with the public, their projects will appeal to a broad audience. Previous work by the long-time collaborators involved a pianist playing a piano backwards and over the top of the keyboard while standing in a hole cut through the middle of the piano.
The New York Times reported on the artist‘s work stating ?[t]he show, organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, seems to exist in its own bubble, as if surrounded by an invisible shield. Certainly its centerpiece, ?Track and Field,? gives it a slightly armed and dangerous feeling: installed in front of the American Pavilion, the piece is an immense inverted [British] military tank topped by a treadmill that shifts into noisy action for 15 minutes every hour when a [former Olympic] runner uses the treadmill.?131 The artist explained that an American tank was their first choice, but it was not available. The entire installation is entitled ?Gloria and one critic believed the overturned tank symbolized America‘s faded glory.
Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center – (WA) $2 Million
The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center has been trying to raise $6.3 million for a new facility in Washington wine country, and it got a big boost from the government this year. A $2 million federal grant145 will help pay for a ?multimillion-dollar wine exhibition and culinary center? in Washington State.146 The center, owned by the Port of Benton, hopes to educate the public about Washington State‘s diverse wine and food industry.
?The Clore Center is expected to be a destination for wine and food education, featuring a tasting room, kitchen, exhibits, teaching vineyards, gardens, classrooms and conference rooms, notes a recent press report.147 The center‘s website also notes how the ?Vineyard Pavilion is adaptable for meetings, events and weddings.
For a time it did not appear as if local officials were interested in chipping in for the new center, despite vowing years earlier to make a small contribution. When the time came to provide the promised $100,000, a dispute arose between the Port of Benton and city commissioners.
In addition the new Clore Center, the Port of Benton oversees two other local wine destinations, including Prosser Vintner‘s Village150 and Prosser Wine and Food Park.
Federal money comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
Program Subsidizes Prosperous Industries – (Department of Agriculture) $200 Million
The Department of Agriculture‘s Market Access Program (MAP) spends $200 million annually to subsidize advertising, market research, and travel around the globe for various industry groups, cooperatives, corporations, and their members or employees. But the industries that benefit from the program are among the country‘s most productive. For example, the U.S. cotton industry, via Cotton Council International, received $20.3 million from MAP154 in the same year (2010) in which it earned revenues of $5.3 billion, according to USDA estimates.
Most recently, MAP used taxpayer dollars to subsidize a popular reality television show in India where ?[a]spiring designers create fashionable outfits using cotton. Well-known American brands like Welch‘s, Sunkist, and others have received tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers to promote their products. Since 1999, total reimbursements for MAP‘s international market promotion activities have reached nearly $2 billion.
What‘s more, the program duplicates other Agriculture Department efforts, and it is difficult to see what impact it has. (For example, the United States is already the world‘s largest exporter of cotton.159) As the New York Times noted in February, ?even the Obama administration, which generally supports the program, wants to reduce it by 20 percent, saying it ?overlaps with other Department of Agriculture trade promotion programs, and its economic impact is unclear.‘