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Margaret's Musings: Golden Fleece Awards vs. the Wastebook 2013

In December, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma, released his fourth edition of the Wastebook. It highlights 100 different examples of outrageous government spending, which amounted to nearly $30 billion dollars.

“If these projects had been eliminated," according to Coburn, "the sequester amount would have been reduced by a third without any noticeable disruption.”

While reading the Wastebook 2013, I thought of the Wisconsin’s late Democratic Senator William Proxmire. His Golden Fleece awards were his personal campaign against government waste. He served in the Senate for 32 years, from 1957 to 1989. Beginning in 1975 through 1987, he gave out 159 Golden Fleece Awards.

The first one was awarded in March of 1975 to the National Science Foundation, “For squandering $84,000 to try to find out why people fall in love.”

Today, love is still in the air. Wastebook 2013; No. 3 The Popular Romance Project received $914,000 from the National Endowment of the Humanities beginning in 2010 to study the romance novel.

Here are a few of the others. Some of them are matched with items from the Wastebook.

GF-June of 1975: to Congress for living high off the hog while much of the rest of the country is suffering economic disaster.

“Congress owes the public to live simply. Senators and congressmen should not be too far removed from the trials and tribulations of the average citizen whom they represent,” said Proxmire in the press release. It was recently reported that today the majority of those serving in Congress are millionaires. According to NPR, Democrats median net worth was $1.04 million compared to $1 million for Republicans.

GF-December of 1975: to the White House for its efforts to add to its empire through increased funds for consultants, contingencies, travel and high level personnel while calling for austerity from the rest of the government.

GF-March of 1976: to the National Science Foundation for spending $46,100 to study the effect of scantily clad women on the behavior of Chicago’s male drivers.

GF-August of 1977: to the Department of Transportation for spending $225,000 on a report which forecasts the transportation needs in the year 2025 under four separate science fiction “scenarios” where the U.S. undergoes an ice age, becomes a dictatorship, is transformed into a hippy culture or blossoms into a society the authors term the American Dream.

GF-April of 1978: to the National Institute of Mental Health for funding a study of behavior and social relationships in a Peruvian brothel. According to a New York Times article, the researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy.

GF-April of 1979: to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Economic Administration for spending $279,000 on a community center so completely useless, that when it collapsed, no one knew it for days.

Wastebook 2013-No.39 Camp Leatherneck Headquarters Facility, (U.S. Department of Defense) $34 million. The 64,000-square-foot command facility has never been occupied. It will be torn down or turned over the Afghan government, Even though the Marine Corps requested the project be cancelled in 2010. Construction started in 2011 and continued into 2013.

GF-May of 1982: to the Department of the Army (DARCOM) for spending $38 million over 13 years on a new gas mask that is no improvement over the mask it was designed to replace.

Wastebook 2013-No.34 Military Boneyard Boondoogle-(U.S. Air Force) $432 million. Even though the Air Force determined they did not want any more Italian made C-27J planes and requested so before Congress in August of 2012, Congress continued to fund their production. All of the existing C-27J planes were taken out of service. In 2013 16 more were delivered and in 2014 five more will arrive. They will join the rest in mothballs.

GF-September of 1984: to the State Department for permitting employees to use over $400,000 to frolic on posh ocean cruises.

Proxmire was not without his critics but he was considered a true political maverick in the Senate. According to his obituary in the New York Times, “He irritated presidents and lawmakers from both parties because of his contempt for the mutual back-scratching most politicians engage in.”

Here are two examples more examples from the “Wastebook 2013.”

No. 82 Cash for Gas-(USDA) $403,627. It was awarded to Woodcrest Dairy, in New York for the creation of a bio-digester to turn methane gas from cow manure into electricity. The grant will help pay for the estimated $2.5 million project. Woodcrest milks 2,750 cows and employs 60 people.

Years ago, I wrote an extensive article on the very same topic. On the Emerald Dairy in St. Croix County, owner John Vierze, had already done the same thing. I checked with him this week. He confirmed that years ago it was more or less common for the USDA to award grants to farms in the Midwest for up to 25 percent of the cost of installing a bio-digester. He wondered if they were looking at some type of new technology.

When I mentioned the grant specifically stated a conversion to electricity his response was “that is what farmers with do with methane from their digesters. They make electricity out of it.” Is the government spending money to reinvent the same wheel?

One of the most troubling or humorous depending on how you want to approach it is the following one.

No. 96 The National Science Foundation puts Tea Party Members’ Cognitive Abilities under the Microscope… with Surprising Results, (CT) $398,000.

The researcher, a Yale University law professor, was surprised that people identified with the Tea Party had slightly better scientific comprehension. Even more shocking to him was that identification with the Republican Party resulted in a better performance on a cognitive reasoning test.

After, looking at the summaries of the Golden Fleece Awards and the “Wastebook 2013” I have to conclude that not much has changed. This administration has ramped up punishment for its enemies but the waste and fraud continues as it has for decades. Maybe we need a few more Proxmires in today’s out of control political environment. I leave you with this timely quote.

“Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous.” ----William Proxmire.

Read all of the Golden Fleece Awards at and download the Wastebook 2013 at