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Friday, January 12, 2024

7 Ridiculous Examples of Government Waste in 2023

To stop out-of-control spending, it will take more than replacing politicians and bureaucrats.

Image Credit: Chris Jones - Pixabay

Almost nobody doubts that the federal government wastes a lot of money. Every day we hear stories of fraud, mismanagement, and misplaced priorities that cost taxpayers millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars.

But just how much money is wasted? In his annual Festivus report—named after the fictional Seinfeld holiday—Senator Rand Paul tallies up some of the most egregious examples of government waste from the year. The report for 2023 came out on December 22, and as usual, the stories spanned the range from hilarious to deeply disconcerting. In all, Paul identified $900 billion in government waste from 2023.

Here are some of the highlights.

1) $659 Billion for Interest on the National Debt

The national debt continues to skyrocket, from roughly $30 trillion last year to roughly $34 trillion today. One of the many problems with carrying such a heavy debt burden is the sheer volume of money that needs to be spent on interest. As Senator Paul’s report highlights, the U.S. Department of the Treasury spent $659 billion(!) in Fiscal Year 2023 just on interest payments.

What’s worse, there seems to be no end in sight. “The Congressional Budget Office predicts that we will add an average of $2 trillion in debt annually for the next decade,” the report notes. “The U.S. government will add over $5 billion of debt every single day for the next ten years. We borrow over $200 million every hour, we borrow $3 million every minute, and we borrow $60,000 every second.”

2) $6 Million to Boost Egyptian Tourism

It is puzzling how the concept of foreign aid ever got off the ground. One can at least understand the reasoning for spending taxpayer money on local schools, roads, and the like, even if you disagree. But how on earth did they sell foreign aid to taxpayers? “Ok, here’s the deal. We’re going to take your money without your consent, and then we’re going to send it to our friends in a far-away country. There’s pretty much nothing in it for you, dear taxpayers.”

Um…thanks?

In just the latest example, the federal government spent $6 million to boost tourism—yes, tourism—in Egypt last year. “The U.S. has spent over $100 million on Egyptian tourism so far,” the report notes. “What’s next – rebuilding the pyramids? Apparently, Congress and the agencies it funds think our treasury is a bottomless pit.”

3) Training DHS Employees to Be Their ‘Authentic & Best Selves’

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been pursuing some…creative training programs as of late. In a federally funded workshop last year, CISA employees focused on “effective strategies to build and sustain psychological safety that allows individuals to show up to work as their authentic and best selves.” The workshop was part of a 5-year “diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA)” strategic plan.

“Ironically, the workshop coincided with CISA’s efforts to suppress protected speech on social media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Paul notes. “Even I was censored at the behest of our government speech minders. And all while I thought I was being my best self.”

4) $38 Million to Dead People

According to a special task force for tracking COVID payments from the federal government, $38 million went to people who were known to be dead in 2023. In fact, $1.3 million of that money went to 30 individuals who had been dead for at least a year.

COVID-relief funding has of course been rife with fraud and mismanagement since the beginning. You’d think politicians would have learned their lesson by now. Then again, it’s not like it’s their money on the line, so why should they care? What are taxpayers going to do, take their money to a competing relief organization?

5) $8,395 for a Lobster Tank

The Department of Defense pays for a lot of tanks, but a $8,395 lobster tank probably isn’t what taxpayers have in mind when they picture a tank expenditure. Yet this is exactly what was purchased last year by the DOD, presumably to improve the diet of military personnel.

What’s concerning about this purchase is not so much the dollar figure itself but what it represents. No doubt countless other purchases like this take place every day in the military. And all those luxuries really add up.

6) Two Graphic Novels Combating ‘Disinformation’

In addition to their DEIA initiative, CISA has been hard at work creating not one, but two graphic novels about “disinformation” as part of their “Resilience Series.” The first one covers foreign interference in elections. The second covers COVID vaccines. “There is nothing comical about wasting taxpayer money to justify censorship of constitutionally protected speech,” Paul notes in his report.

7) $200 Million to Famous Music Artists from the ‘Small Business’ Administration

Through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, the Small Business Administration (SBA) funneled $200 million to some of the biggest names in entertainment. “So-called ‘small business owners,’ such as Post Malone, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, and Smashing Pumpkins, received up to $10 million each,” the report notes. “Even Nickelback received $2 million.”

The purpose of the program was to provide financial relief to small entertainment businesses during the pandemic shutdowns. But apparently, the SBA has a hard time defining the word small.

Of course, even the money that did go to genuinely small businesses arguably counts as government waste, as I’ve explained elsewhere.

The Right Way to Reduce Government Waste

The 19th-century English polymath Herbert Spencer was well acquainted with government waste, and he frequently called it out in his writings. Some of his most powerful critiques of bureaucratic largesse can be found in his 1853 essay Over-legislation. Consider the following passages:

Between these law-made agencies and the spontaneously-formed ones, who then can hesitate? The one class are slow, stupid, extravagant, unadaptive, corrupt, and obstructive: can any point out in the other, vices that balance these? It is true that trade has its dishonesties, speculation its follies. These are evils inevitably entailed by the existing imperfections of humanity. It is equally true, however, that these imperfections of humanity are shared by State-functionaries; and that being unchecked in them by the same stern discipline, they grow to far worse results.…

As Spencer points out, the problem is not so much the people, but the system. Government waste does not exist for lack of good managers, but for lack of good incentives.

Given a race of men having a certain proclivity to misconduct… the question is, whether a society of these men shall be so organized that ill-conduct directly brings punishment, or whether it shall be so organized that punishment is but remotely contingent on ill-conduct? Which will be the most healthful community—that in which agents who perform their functions badly, immediately suffer by the withdrawal of public patronage; or that in which such agents can be made to suffer only through an apparatus of meetings, petitions, polling-booths, parliamentary divisions, cabinet-councils, and red-tape documents? Is it not an absurdly utopian hope that men will behave better when correction is far removed and uncertain than when it is near at hand and inevitable? Yet this is the hope which most political schemers unconsciously cherish…

To rein in government waste, it is not enough to replace the politicians and bureaucrats. The incentives inherent in government virtually guarantee waste and mismanagement. The only real solution is to radically diminish the size and scope of the government and to allow the private sector to step in instead.


  • Patrick Carroll is the Managing Editor at the Foundation for Economic Education.