Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has taken over the annual waste list from former Sen. Tom Coburn.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has taken over the annual waste list from former Sen. Tom Coburn. Sue Ogrocki/AP

Senator's 'Wastebook' Mocks Duck Counting, Study of Medieval Smells

Lankford's new compilation hits policies as well as scientific grants portrayed as trivial.

In his second annual football-season installment of “Federal Fumbles,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford detailed and ridiculed what he views as wasteful agency spending on foibles ranging from a study of medieval smells to more substantive problems such as $19.1 billion in improper Medicaid payments. 

The annual compilation, which Lankford inherited from his predecessor Sen. Tom Coburn, is subtitled “100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball.” His staff mined inspector general and Government Accountability Office reports (which provided many footnotes) to come up with $247 billion in “waste” resulting from 84 spending and 16 regulations fumbles. Lankford, who serves on the Appropriations and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panels, added cartoon-like photos and rhetoric to mock silly-sounding grants and outdated federal practices.

“The American people have signaled a bold new direction for Washington with the election of President-elect Donald Trump,” Lankford said. “Although the federal debt wasn’t a major focus during the presidential campaign, it remains a serious impending crisis that must be addressed. “This ‘Federal Fumbles’ report provides specific examples of wasteful spending and unnecessary regulations that are not in the taxpayer’s best interest, and shows specific solutions for how the federal government can become more efficient.”

Examples, in Lankford’s shorthand, appear without agency rebuttals:

  • In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service paid an $180,000 grant for the development of a method to count and tag the sea duck population in America;
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum Services spent $495,000 to fund a temporary exhibit for sights, sounds, tastes and yes, even smells of the Medieval period;
  • The National Institutes of Health funded a $2 million, multi-year study about kids’ eating emotions, and how they don’t like to eat food that’s been sneezed on.
  • The General Services Administration, in decorating a Los Angeles Courthouse, awarded a $ 1 million contract for a photograph of a Yosemite waterfall to be cut up in six pieces and displayed on different floors.
  • The Transportation Security Administration spent $47,000 to create an app to tell passengers whether to enter the left or right line.  

Taking on more general policies, Lankford’s wastebook went after the Office of Personnel Management for continuing to use paper rather than electronics to process retirement applications, the Justice Department for giving $300 million to “sanctuary cities” that protect immigrants, and the Postal Service for continuing to lose money by not charging magazine and periodical companies full price for delivery.

“Unfortunately, some of the spending you will read about comes through one-time expenditures—like a grant used to purchase custom Snuggies (a blanket with sleeves),” the report said. For such examples, “there is not a specific program which Congress can eliminate to prevent further spending of this nature,” the book said. But “Federal Fumbles” and congressional oversight serve as an “important reminder” that agencies need to spend money only in ways that benefit the American taxpayer.”

Lankford’s solutions to wasteful spending are linked to many of his own bills, among them the Taxpayers Right to Know Act, a spending transparency measure that passed the House this year but stalled in the Senate.