Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk, outlines his annual “Wastebook."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk, outlines his annual “Wastebook." J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Agencies Beg to Differ With Entries in Senator’s ‘Wastebook’

NASA education contractor and humanities endowment take issue with unflattering portrayals of projects.

Representatives from at least two agencies portrayed unflatteringly in Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Wastebook” released on Tuesday have weighed in with objections to how their projects were characterized.

In his fourth annual compilation of some 100 ways in which, based on research by the senator’s staff, the government appears to be wasting money, Coburn in an accompanying press release and news conference mocked NASA for paying employees to study the workings of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities for awarding grants to academics who study romance novels.

“Most college graduates have taken a course in American Government (or at the very least, seen Schoolhouse Rock) and are familiar with how a bill becomes a law,” Coburn’s report said. “It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science, however, to know that the current Congress has failed to perform its most basic tasks. NASA would be far better off looking for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”

That didn’t sit well with Kenneth Gold, who for 20 years has been director of the Government Affairs Institute, now part of Georgetown University. The institute delivers the mid-career education on Congress to NASA employees under a five-year contract with a $3 million ceiling, and Gold said this week he has been hit with “a flurry” of emails about the training.

“Our mission is to educate federal officials about congressional process and procedure, and to improve communication and the working relationship between the executive branch and Congress,” he said in an email. “We educate more than 3,000 federal officials a year, and believe that in doing so we help improve the way the federal government works.”

Gold said the Wastebook fails to disclose that the actual cost of the four-day Washington class is $860 per person, including tuition, class materials and breakfast and lunch each day. Costs for an upcoming class with 24 participants total a little more than $20,000.

“Over five years the competitively awarded contract has a maximum of $3 million, although it’s unlikely to reach anything close to that,” Gold wrote. “Not exactly as it’s portrayed.”

In an emailed response, Coburn spokesman John Hart said that even if NASA wasn't going to spend the full $3 million on the training effort, it was responsible for seeking a grant of that size. 

Gold said many of the projects in Coburn’s report “deserve to be pasted.” But the fact that the senator’s staff spent so much time on the heavily footnoted project and then packaged it to look like a comic book, “would lead you to a certain conclusion,” he added. “The good stuff in what the government does gets lost.”

Another of Coburn’s targets was a trio of NEH grants the agency described as follows: “Taking love and its stories seriously, wherever they may be found, the Popular Romance Project will spark a lively, thoughtful conversation between fans, authors, scholars, and the general public about the writing, production, and consumption of popular romance, including its history and transformation in the digital age.”

The Wastebook said: “NEH may love to waste money on this project, but taxpayers are likely to feel jilted about subsidizing the promotion of [an] industry that generated over $1.4 billion in 2012, and remains as hot as ever.”

The endowment issued a statement saying, “The NEH project described in Sen. Coburn’s report consists of three grants for scholarly study. All three grants received high marks from peer review panels that include leading scholars in history, philosophy, cultural studies and other humanities disciplines. The grants were recommended for funding by NEH’s National Humanities Council, which includes appointees from both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

Hart said, “Dr. Coburn's criticism has nothing to do with judging whether it's worth studying romance. This may be the most important study on romance in the history of civilization. His goal is to ask whether studying romance is the best use of scarce federal dollars when we’re facing the impending bankruptcy of safety net programs and crushing debt and deficits. If those conducting the study don't want their work reviewed in Wastebook they should not ask for federal taxpayer funds. Private sources may be willing to research romance.”

Asked about the cost of producing Wastebook itself, Hart said “the cost of not conducting oversight and encouraging a national debate about priorities is incalculable. However, any person can view our office budget and website and decide whether Dr. Coburn’s investment in oversight is worthwhile.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify Coburn spokesman John Hart's characterization of the NASA training grant.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.