Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., released the report on Monday.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., released the report on Monday. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senator Mocks Federal Funds Spent on Solar-Powered Brewery, Silent Shakespeare Plays

Lankford’s “Federal Fumbles” picks up where Coburn left off on detailing potential government waste.

Questionable federal spending--on silent Shakespeare plays, solar-paneled breweries and highly localized music documentaries--came under attack in a compilation released on Monday by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Taking over the “Wastebook” published for years by his Oklahoma Republican predecessor Tom Coburn, Lankford’s new inventory of fodder for headlines employs a football theme in the title “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball.”

But his approach differs from Coburn’s in that he incorporated many of the anti-regulatory themes of his legislative agenda. He also called out some projects for mockery when they appear to be part and parcel of some agency missions.

“Our national debt is careening toward $19 trillion (yes, that is a 19 followed by 12 zeros), and federal regulations are expanding at a record pace,” Lankford wrote. “Meanwhile families struggle to get home loans, and small businesses struggle to make ends meet. States are constantly handed unfunded mandates and executive fiats that they are forced to implement with minimal direction and no way to pay for them.”

The spending “fumbles” listed “are not only prime examples of wasteful spending, but also federal departments or agencies that regulate outside the scope of the federal government’s constitutional role,” Lankford said.

Some items have been reported before, such as the Pentagon’s $43 million gas station in Afghanistan, and the Internal Revenue Service’s struggles to reduce tax refunds to individuals who are deceased.

Others Lankford highlighted in advance of the report with videos, such as the National Science Foundation’s $374,087 study on the dating habits of senior citizens--“The Federal Government, or” the video asked. A second video asked, “Ever purchase a ticket to a silent Shakespeare play? If you pay federal taxes, you did,” referencing a National Endowment for the Arts $683,600 program that gave Virginia theater companies tens of thousands of dollars to perform dialog-less adaptations of “Hamlet.”

“Congress has allowed NEA to drop the ball in this instance by not providing enough oversight and guidance for federal grants,” Lankford wrote, saying such projects are better suited for private or state-based funding.

The Agriculture Department took a licking for awarding a $35,000 grant to a northern Michigan brewery to install solar panels to meet 7 percent of its energy needs under the Rural Energy for America Program.

The National Park Service got hit for awarding a $5,000 regional studies grant to Mars Hill University in North Carolina to produce a documentary about Madison County Master Fiddler Roger Howell under the congressionally designated Blue Ridge Heritage Area cultural programs.  The Park Service was also mocked for spending $65,473 to “demonstrate what happens to bugs when the lights go out,” a question, Lankford said in a press conference on Monday, to which “anyone in Oklahoma can tell you the answer.”

The State Department came under attack for spending $700,000 in 2014 to conserve a Buddhist temple in Vietnam and $40,000 to document Bengal folk music in India under its Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation program.

State also came under fire for being “the worst offender” among agencies that spend large chunks of their annual budgets in the final month of the fiscal year. “Governmentwide, between 2003 and 2013, 16.9 percent of obligated contract expenditures occurred during the month of September,” the report said, “more than twice what we would expect if spending were split evenly over 12 months at 8.3 percent per month.”

The report elaborated: “As part of the September shop-till-you-drop spree, State purchased a $1 million granite sculpture for its London Embassy, spent nearly $20,000 for books that were used as Christmas gifts, $1.5 million worth of furniture, $26,315 worth of North Face parkas, and $5 million for custom handcrafted stemware.”

Lankford touted his Taxpayer’s Right to Know Act, introduced in January to create a central database for the financial data of every federal program. Agencies “have made some progress” in curbing waste, he told reporters, citing reductions in duplicative programs identified by the Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department’s reduction of its spending on conferences by two-thirds.

Calling his compilation a “to-do list” that is not exhaustive, Lankford said he hoped to get the report out to start a discussion on reaching a balanced budget in a decade. “For each problem,” he said, “we lay out a solution.”