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Puppet Shows, Bomb Sniffing Elephants Make Senate's Latest 'Wastebook'

McCain picks up where Coburn left off, with a detailed list of potentially frivolous federal projects that is likely to irk colleagues.

From bomb-detecting potential of elephants to National Guard spending on professional sports, the colorful tales of bad-optics spending just keep on coming.

The newest Senate “Wastebook” compiling questionable agency spending, from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is shorter than its predecessor, based on more official sources and more likely to draw rebuttals from senatorial colleagues.

“Today I am releasing a report titled America’s Most Wasted, which continues the remarkable work that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn did for years with his annual Wastebook by highlighting, naming and shaming outrageous pork projects funded with your taxpayer dollars,” the Armed Services Committee chairman wrote in a release announcing the first in a planned series. His report highlights “questionable” Washington spending totaling $1.1 billion and “identifies at least $294 billion in spending on programs that are no longer authorized to receive funding due to Congress’s persistent unwillingness to pass authorization bills and oversee the spending that follows,” McCain said.

Citing a Congressional Budget Office January report on unauthorized spending on expired programs, the 18-page compendium goes after the Social Security Administration for paying $225 million for the schooling of ineligible children of people with disabilities. It hits the Homeland Security Department for spending $23 million researching bio-threats only to cancel the contract. And it notes that CBO singled out NASA and the National Institutes of Health for receiving tens of billions of tax dollars even though their programs’ authorization has expired.

“This report, required by law, identified at least $294 billion in spending on federal programs this fiscal year that are no longer authorized to receive tax dollars,” McCain wrote. In fiscal 2014, “that number reached $302 billion. These findings raise serious questions about Congress’s oversight and its ability to identify where limited tax dollars are being spent.”

McCain also mocked a $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant used for puppet shows in Vermont, and a dog-bite prevention website funded using a $390,798 NIH grant to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The elephant powers-of-smell research involved a $50,000 Army research and development project in Africa, and the National Guard is said to have spent $49 million of its recruiting budget on sponsorship and advertising with sports leagues at a time when it had trouble training and paying guard members.

McCain’s report trumpets his years-long crusade against congressional earmarks, which were ostensibly ended in 2011, and may alienate colleagues with detailed attacks. “Among the many wasteful provisions in the [fiscal 2015] appropriations bill, better known as the “Cromnibus,” was a costly and duplicative provision directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue developing a catfish inspection office even though another government agency, the Food and Drug Administration, already runs a catfish inspection office,” the report said. “What’s so special about catfish that they need two inspection centers?....Southern catfish farmers, rather than face competition, asked their powerful senators to support a law that essentially forces Americans to buy domestic catfish.”

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