iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In Washington, pork is often in the eye of the beholder. And retiring GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sees a lot of it.
Coburn’s fifth annual and final “Wastebook” lists 100 “silly, unnecessary and low priority projects” that he says cost taxpayers a combined $25 billion.
“Is each of these a true national priority, or could the money have been better spent on a more urgent need, or not spent at all?” Coburn writes in the 110-page report.
Here are five eyebrow-raising entries on Coburn’s list:
1. Swedish Massages for Rabbits: $387,000
Eighteen New Zealand white rabbits received 30-minute massages, four times a day in a taxpayer-funded study by the National Institutes of Health. The rub downs were performed by a specially-designed mechanical Swedish massage machine that “simulates the long flowing strokes.” Researchers say humans are the ultimate beneficiaries of the project, which studied the benefits of massage on recovery from exercise. But Coburn calls it a case of waste, citing existing studies of treatments for aches and pains, and suggesting that humans would be better subjects than rabbits. (As for those massaged rabbits, they were ultimately euthanized, the report says.)
2. Army Video Game Training Terrorists?: $414,000
The U.S. Army spent $414,000 this year maintaining a free online video game that it first developed and launched as a recruitment tool back in 2009, the report says citing the Congressional Research Service. America’s Army is a first-person shooter game that simulates special forces operations. Coburn, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the realistic nature of the program makes it as much a training device as a recruitment tool. “Some intelligence officials worry it could also be aiding jihadists and mass murderers,” the report claims.
3. Hungry Spouses & Voodoo Dolls: $331,000
What happens between couples when one is particularly hungry? A National Science Foundation study set out to evaluate a connection between low blood sugar and anger by arming couples with voodoo dolls representing their spouse. The hungrier the spouse, the more pins were poked into the doll when they got agitated. A lead researcher concluded, “Hungry people are cranky and aggressive.” Coburn’s report claims the findings are “already obvious to many couples.”
4. Mountain Lions on Treadmill: $856,000
Three mountain lions spent eight months learning to walk on a treadmill as part of study funded by taxpayers through National Science Foundation. Researchers were studying the big cats’ energy consumption and hunting techniques to “inform public knowledge and opinion of large mammal behavior and conservation.” It follows similar government treadmill studies on monkeys, rats, cows and even shrimp. “While support for basic science is not itself wasteful,” Coburn’s report reads, “federal research agencies should better prioritize how tax dollars are directed to ensure adequate support for more pressing scientific endeavors.”
5. Unneeded “Sheep Station”: $1.98 million
A 28,000-acre facility in Idaho to graze 3,000 sheep — dubbed the “U.S. Sheep Experiment Station” — has been deemed unsustainable and unnecessary by the Obama administration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said outright earlier this year that it should be closed to prioritize research on more important projects. But members of congress and other state officials have succeeded in keeping the $2 million a year facility open for the benefit of Idaho businesses, the report says.
Asked about several National Science Foundation projects included in the report, NSF spokeswoman Dana Topousis told ABC News that each was funded after a “rigorous merit review process” through which only 20 percent of proposals each year are approved.
“All proposals submitted to NSF are reviewed according to two merit review criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts,” Topousis said in a statement. “Nearly every proposal is evaluated by a minimum of three independent reviewers consisting of scientists, engineers and educators who do not work at NSF or for the institution that employs the proposing researchers.”
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