EMILY GOFF: Top 10 ways Washington wasted your money

Whether it’s negotiating over how much to spend on government operations or the government’s borrowing limit, we hear a familiar refrain in Washington these days: There is absolutely no room to cut federal spending. But this is not the case.

Many people remember the millions spent on the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. But how about the millions of dollars in federal spending on caviar promotion, keeping empty bank accounts open, and creating Star Trek parody videos? Yes, those are a few examples of your tax dollars at work.

The following 10 examples of government waste are the punch line in “Federal Spending by the Numbers – 2013”, a new report by The Heritage Foundation that breaks down federal government spending trends. As our report shows, there is plenty of fat to trim from the federal budget:

1. In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service spent $4.1 million on a conference for 2,609 employees, who received “swag” worth $64,000, free meals and cocktails, and hotel suite upgrades. Let’s not forget the $50,000 line-dancing and those Star Trek parody videos, either.

2. The federal government spends $890,000 a year just to keep 13,712 empty bank accounts open. That comes to $65 per year, per account.

3. Sorry parents, but prom just got more expensive. The National Science Foundation spent $500,000 on developing a video game that simulates a high school prom.

4. While a fine Bordeaux wine or Picasso painting may increase in value over time, unused Transportation Security Administration equipment does not. The agency left 5,700 pieces of security equipment, such as baggage screening machines, sitting idle in a warehouse for months – in some cases, years – on end. The warehouse costs $3.5 million a year to lease and manage.

5. Though TSA spends $1.8 million a year to lease 440,000 square feet of floor storage space in three warehouses in Texas, it left 72,074 square feet unused. That’s more square footage than a football field or in the White House.

6. The federal government spent $300,000 in 2012 to encourage caviar consumption. Seriously.

7. Amtrak, the federally subsidized passenger rail service, only earned 44 cents on the dollar for the food and beverages it offers on long-distance routes. Those routes are also money losers. You have to wonder: could McDonald’s or Starbucks sustain such losses and stay in business?

8. Poor oversight resulted in 1,000 prisoners in Pennsylvania collecting weekly employment benefits over a four-month period, to the tune of $7 million.

9. The Department of Health and Human Services awarded $340 million in loans to Freelancers Insurance Co. to establish health care co-ops. Regulators ranked the company dead last among New York state’s insurance companies.

10. The Office of Naval Research spent $450,000 on a study that concluded unintelligent robots cannot keep a baby’s attention. While such waste can be found in the defense budget, any resulting savings should be reinvested to sustain current defense capabilities and modernize the military.

Next to the country’s $16.7 trillion debt, these waste examples may seem like chump change. But cutting waste would build momentum for reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – programs that make up the lion’s share of the federal budget and drive the nation’s spending. In the coming months, lawmakers will have multiple opportunities – the debate over government spending for 2014, and the debate over increasing the government’s borrowing limit – to scale back government spending on both small and big-ticket items. Inaction only means that more debt will be piled onto the shoulders of our children and grandchildren. It’s time for lawmakers to rise to the occasion and not parrot tired excuses.

EMILY GOFF is a researcher in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Readers may write to the author in care of The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; www.heritage.org.