Published Friday, December 27, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:39 pm
2013 ‘wastebook’
World-Herald editorial: Waste totals real money

There’s some question whether the late Sen. Everett Dirksen actually coined the phrase so famously attributed to him: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

But there’s little doubt, Dirksen researchers say, that the Illinois lawmaker endorsed the sentiment. He once lamented of rising government spending, “We are becoming so accustomed to millions and billions of dollars that ‘thousands’ has almost passed out of the dictionary.”

Looking at today’s Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn seems cast in the Dirksen mold. For several years, he has published a “Wastebook” to call attention to the many ways government squanders taxpayer dollars.

Some of this year’s examples are viewed through a political lens, of course, including his excoriating of the Affordable Care Act and its botched rollout as “perhaps the biggest marketing flop since Coca-Cola introduced the world to ‘New Coke’ in 1985.” And some are judgment calls, such as Coburn’s assertion that the Pentagon is wasting money by leaving equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than trying to bring it all home.

But in this year’s report, Coburn again finds so many items large and small that taxpayers are left to shake their heads. A few of his examples:

>> The State Department spent $630,000 to get “likes” and fans for its Facebook and Twitter accounts. And during hearings on the terrorist attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, the department blamed tight security budgets, Coburn notes, but still found $704,198 for gardening and landscaping at the NATO ambassador’s 28-acre home in Brussels.

>> Nearly $1 million has been spent to study “the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and Internet fan fiction.”

>> A $150,000 grant went to a company in North Carolina to develop a math learning game based on the “zombie apocalypse.”

>> The Army National Guard spent $10 million on Superman movie tie-ins “while plans were being made to cut the strength of the Guard by 8,000 soldiers, the real supermen and (-)women who fight for truth, justice and the American way.”

>> An Agriculture Department program, designed to assist those low- and moderate-income people in rural areas with housing, subsidized loans of $500,000 or more for beachfront homes in Hawaii.

>> Through the tax code, “Uncle Sam is assisting the operation of the legal brothels in Nevada,” allowing them to qualify for tax deductions.

>> The National Technical Information Service, a $50 million item, charges “other offices and taxpayers to provide government reports that are largely available free of charge” via the Internet.

>> Although 97 percent of its staff was furloughed in the federal shutdown, NASA “is paying 20 individuals $18,000 each to literally do nothing more than lie around for a couple months.” These “pillownauts” are taking part in a study on what human bodies might go through in weightlessness.

>> The Army spent almost $300 million to develop a “mega-blimp” for battlefield surveillance, only to cancel the project after three years. It flew once, for 90 minutes over New Jersey, and was sold back to the contractor for $301,000.

The list goes on. And on. The 2013 Wastebook runs to 175 pages. All of this while federal agencies howled about across-the-board spending cuts from the budget sequester.

“When it comes to spending your money, those in Washington tend to see no waste, speak no waste, and cut no waste,” Coburn said.

Some items are just plain goofy and some amounts are relatively small, but the senator does taxpayers a service by raising serious issues.

Congress and the administration need to set national priorities. It’s hard to see how a study of romance novels fits that criteria.

Congress and the administration should be vigilant watchdogs of taxpayers’ money. They weren’t watching when the State Department was buying Facebook likes.

A billion here, a billion there. For taxpayers, it’s real money.

Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
2 men charged with conspiracy to distribute meth held on $1 million bail each
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
La Vista plans meeting on sales tax proposal, 84th Street redevelopment
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Millard school board bans e-cigarettes from all district properties, events
< >
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »