Stimulus Slammed: Republican Senators Release Report Alleging Waste

Report may raise eyebrows about stimulus spending. Defenders cite inaccuracies.

August 2, 2010, 6:45 PM

Aug. 3, 2010 -- The Obama administration has credited its $862 billion stimulus program with pulling the economy out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But a new report by two Republican senators argues the stimulus is riddled with wasteful projects that do not create jobs.

The report, released by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., highlights 100 stimulus projects that they say have "questionable goals," are "being mismanaged or were poorly planned" and are even "costing jobs and hurting small businesses."

The Coburn-McCain report takes issue with stimulus spending on projects like one that entailed research on how cocaine affects monkeys. The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center was awarded $71,623 to study what the report calls, "Monkeys Getting High for Science."

Bonnie Davis, a spokeswoman for The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said the "small grant has helped protect very important research that will have significant impact on public health in regards to cocaine addiction and the issue of relapse."

Go a little further down the list and you'll find even bigger spending. The California Academy of Sciences is receiving nearly $1 million in stimulus funds to send researchers to the Southwest Indian Ocean Islands and East Africa to capture, photograph and analyze thousands of exotic ants.

There's also funding for yoga and hot flashes. Researchers at Wake Forest University have received nearly $300,000 to study whether integral yoga "can be an effective method to reduce the frequency and/or severity of hot flashes" in breast cancer survivors.

"I think all of them are waste," McCain told ABC News. "I think none of them really have any meaningful impact on creating jobs. And, of course, some are more egregious than others but all of them are terrible."

In perhaps the most eye-popping instance, the report says oil giant BP, the company behind the worst oil spill in the nation's history, is benefiting from $308 million given to Hydrogen Energy California -- a company it owns -- to build a California power plant that won't even break ground for another two years.

The funds were given to BP by the Department of Energy. While the natural gas electricity plant in Kern County would generate enough low-carbon electricity for 150,000 family homes, according to the company, construction will not start for another two years and the plant is not set to become operational until the end of 2014.

"It's nice to have BP investing in environmentally friendly anything, much less a power plant," McCain quipped.

The White House Recovery Office maintains Recovery Act funding for the project was offered in June 2009 and officially awarded in September 2009, long before the Gulf spill, and that the award went to a joint venture that is a 50/50 cost-share between Rio Tinto and BP -- so BP is not the primary awardee.

In addition, it turns out the $308 million awarded is only made up of $175 million in stimulus funds, with the remaining portion coming from other sources. In fact, the private sector has given the project seven times as much funding as the government has.

"The project directly and indirectly employs more than 150 people to date and $14 million stimulus funds received to date has created or preserved 47 of these jobs, as reported on," Jordan Feilders of Hydrogen Energy California told ABC News.

The project is projected eventually to create more than 1,500 jobs.

According to Feilders, however, construction is not slated to begin until 2012, a year later than the Coburn-McCain report indicated.

Another eyebrow-raising endeavor involves the U.S. Forest Service in Washington state, which is spending more than half a million dollars to replace the windows on a visitor center at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument that today sits closed with no set re-open date.

The U.S. Forest Service frames the window replacement as a necessary investment.

"The Forest Service is actually in the process of repurposing the visitors' center and plans to reuse the empty space," a U.S. Forest official told ABC News. "This window replacement is necessary to maintain the facility so they are in a position to do so. It's a critical step to protect the original investment and ensure continued good use of taxpayer dollars."

The list goes on, although some of the administrators and recipients of stimulus funds say the report doesn't get all the facts straight.

In Newark, Ohio, Pastor Greg Sheets already has lost his front yard and could lose his entire home as a $1.8 million road project comes right up to his doorstep. Sheets is only one of 25 homeowners whose houses are threatened by the project.

However, the Ohio Department of Transportation told ABC News that plans for the project began in 2005, well before the stimulus bill was even conceived of. The ODT also maintains the acquisition of the property is being handled by the City of Newark's city attorney, who has followed all state and federal procedures for purchasing the property.

Meanwhile, the town of Boynton, Okla., is spending nearly $90,000 to replace a quarter-mile stretch of sidewalk that's only five years old.

However, officials in the Oklahoma Department of Transportation say the $90,000 was a part of a $16 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and was focused on sidewalks for a reason: Sidewalks have to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act as a mandatory precursor to receiving any funding from the Federal Highway Administration. This particular sidewalk in Boyton was too narrow and too sloped to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs.

"It's a major help because now small communities, like Boynton, can receive federal funding for their roads," Casey Shell of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation told ABC News.

However, to Sens. McCain and Coburn's point, Shell admitted he could not point to any jobs created by the project.

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