How much of your tax dollars does the Federal government waste?
A Republican senator has drafted what he calls a "wastebook" - a guide to what he considers to be the top 100 examples of wasteful government spending in 2010.
The Department of Agriculture awarded the University of New Hampshire $700,000 this year investigating methane gas emissions from dairy cows. The conclusion? "Cows emit most of their methane through belching, only a small fraction from flatulence," said project investigator Ruth Varner.
And The National Science Foundation spent $216,000 to study the use of "ambiguous" statements by politicians. Specifically, the grant description says, the study exams whether candidates, "gain or lose support by taking ambiguous positions." The Census Bureau blew $2.5 million on a 30-second ad that ran during the Super Bowl. To make matters worse, the ad was almost universally banned, leaving most viewers uncertain of its meaning.
"I would tell you that there's hundreds of billions of dollars every year, that if the American tax payer could go down through it, they'd say "wipe this off, this off, this off...we don't think any of this is important," said Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), the author of the report. In a federal budget that exceeds $1trillion, Senator Coburn acknowledges his examples represent a tiny fraction of government spending.
"In terms of the size of the fed budget, the examples are inconsequential but that's not what we're trying to get to," Coburn told ABC News. "It's the lack of attentiveness and the lack of structured decision making that's being carried on by congress that allows these things to continue.
The combined cost of studies of cow burps and wishy washy political statements was less than a million dollars, but some of the other items in Coburn's report are far more costly. For example: the federal government spends an estimated $930 million on unnecessary printing, even thousands of unread copies of the mammoth budget of the United States.
"How many people actually read the printed budget of the President? The printed one," Coburn said. "One, maybe two?"
The government spends $28 million a year just to print "The Congressional Record," a daily chronicle of every word uttered in Congress and countless more words submitted "for the record." The printed version of the "Congressional Record" is mostly seen filling up giant recycling bins on Capitol Hill.
The Congressional Record, of course, is available online which is they way most people who want to read it find it.
A report this year found that the Department of Energy could save $2.2 million with more efficient use of electricity in its own buildings.
The Department told ABC News they are working on it by recently installing 600 energy efficient LED lights at its headquarters in Washington. Although the Department says less than 5 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources and, as ABC News saw on one recent evening, most of the lights in the headquarters building are left on long after the employees go home.
For the record, Coburn says the blame for most of this lies not with the White House, but with Congress. What's needed, he says, is for the President to fight Congress to stop these programs.
"We've never had a president, that I know of in my lifetime, that's willing to take on congress," Coburn said. "None of them. None of them."