Feature

Congress' 'wasteful' spend-a-thon: By the numbers

According to a new report, tax payers spent $11.5 billion to enhance zoos with poetry, honor the Grateful Dead, and subsidize the Department of Energy's "inefficient" energy use

It's time for mistletoe, gratuitous holiday presents, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)'s annual report on "wasteful and low-priority" government spending. Crisply titled "Wastebook: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful Government Spending in 2010," the document (available as a PDF) details the billions in taxpayer money that have been spent on dubious projects ranging from the upkeep of an abandoned monkey house to digitizing Grateful Dead archives. In this struggling economy, writes Coburn, many Americans are "taking stock of what they can really afford. Is it so much to expect Congress to do the same?" (Watch Coburn discuss his findings.) Here, a by-the-numbers guide to the madness (except where otherwise noted, all figures are taken directly from the report):

More than $11.5 billion Grand total of the expenditures detailed in the report

$175 millionAmount spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs to maintain unused buildings, including an octagonal, pink monkey house

$1.8 millionAmount spent on the Neon Boneyard Park and Museum in Las Vegas, a place where "where neon signs go to die"

$615,000Cost of helping the University of California at Santa Cruz digitize its Grateful Dead memorabilia

$930 millionAmount spent by federal agencies on "unnecessary" printing costs. "Encouraging federal employees to hit 'print' less could save taxpayers" untold millions.

$2.9 millionAmount spent studying virtual games like World of Warcraft

$2.2 millionExpenses racked up due to the Department of Energy's "inefficient" lighting policies. "As the DOE continues to police the energy usage of taxpayers, the light will hopefully come on about its own inefficiency."

$35 millionAmount Medicare paid out to criminal gang members who submitted false claims using stolen identities of doctors and patients

$15.68 millionAmount spent by the Bureau of Land Management in 2010 on a 2,900-acre shooting range outside of Las Vegas

$150,000Size of the federal grant the Vermont Conservation Commission received to build "critter crossings" to protect amphibians from being slaughtered while crossing the street

$997,766Amount spent on enhancing zoos in Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Florida with poetry. "Our nation currently faces many challenges; a shortage of poetry in our nation's zoos, however, is rarely cited as one of them."

$112 millionAmount paid out by the Internal Revenue Service in "undeserved tax refunds" to prisoners who had filed fraudulent claims
$2.5 millionAmount spent by the U.S. Census Bureau on a critically derided, 30-second 2010 Super Bowl ad called "Snapshot of America"

$858 billionCost of the tax-cut deal approved by Congress last week

$1.3 trillionThe size of the federal budget deficit in 2010

$13.7 trillionThe size of the national debt

Sources: Wastebook, CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today

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