It’s tempting to feel that we’re living in uncertain political times, and in many respects, this is true. But amidst the partisan fractures and ramping up of political vitriol, there are some certainties and constants that we can rely upon to keep us grounded. One of those guaranteed, familiar reminders that our democracy is still our democracy is the annual report documenting the most comically wasteful, brilliantly original means by which elected officials, government employees, and the other factions within the bureaucratic albatross throw taxpayer dollars into a metaphorical shredder.
The joke writers at the White House Correspondents’ dinner couldn’t come up with this kind of material if they revived Rodney Dangerfield from his grave. Like the origins of Dangerfield’s own material, the only way to deal with the depressing lengths to which American government will go to bloat their bottom line year-after-year, justifying the next year’s escalated budgets in the process, is to laugh.
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford does the legwork, serving up the comedy of intentional fiscal errors on a platter in a now-annual report he has dubbed ‘Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball’. Now in its third edition, the report even comes with a nice football graphic that brings a bit of literality to its football-centric title.
If you thought Hamilton was a hot-ticket on Broadway, you won’t believe the years-long waiting list that’s going to be instantly booked when Doggie Hamlet hits the Big Apple. Or, a New Hampshire field, to be more accurate. Wherever it hits, rest assured that its cast took full advantage of its generous $30,000, taxpayer-bankrolled budget. Consider it a Kickstarter for animal-taunting thespians.
‘Doggie Hamlet actually includes humans yelling or running toward very confused sheep and dogs. The production, which does not include any actual lines from Hamlet, is conducted outdoors in a 30-by-50-foot field in New Hampshire. The play is described as “a beautiful and dreamlike spectacle weaving instinct, mystery, and movement into an unusual performance event."
Instinct, mystery, movement, terrified sheep…Doggie Hamlet. Coming to a field near you, never.
What’s that? You say you want to be a computer programmer when you grow up? Does the prospect of taking on next-level, game-changing technological challenges appeal to you?
The federal government has funded just the university program for you. Now introducing the conversation-ending answer to all allegations that college students have developed into grown children with mentalities that develop in inverse proportion to their biological clocks.
Two words: digital. puppets.
‘Earlier this year, the NEH provided $74,851 for a university to utilize 3-D technology to create electronic versions of puppets so viewers can “manipulate and ‘play,’ through game-like technology, with a puppet or other performative object held in a digital archive.” The funding will be used to scan up to 15 puppets into a system that will enable viewers to control puppet functions and facial expressions either on a desktop computer or virtual reality device.’
You might be thinking: wasteful, sure, but these expenses are nothing compared to the billions that the government justifies spending on the military, social programs. etc. Have you ever wondered how the national debt and annual government budgets have come to top the trillion dollar mark? Have you ever pondered that dedicating $30,000 to sheep-screaming therapy sessions and $70,000 to digital puppet scanning technology might make up a more considerable chunk of that federal budget than you could have ever imagined?
These examples are the identifiable extremes of a national approach toward spending that has been exorbitant for decades. They aren’t outliers, but mere microcosms of a greater approach toward federal spending that is centered around one underlying principle: waste with haste. Spend fast, and spend hard. Lankford didn’t stop at the relatively miniscule examples of government waste in the past fiscal year. The projects and programs may not have gotten more ridiculous, but they did get more expensive.
‘In 2013, the Air Force estimated to Congress that the upgraded Air Operations Center would be operational in 2016 at a total development cost of $374 million. Late in 2016, the Air Force updated its estimates and projected completion in 2019 at nearly double the original cost. According to the DOD’s IG, the cost and time delays occurred because “Air Force officials underestimated the complexity of the program” and the contractor did not have enough trained employees to do the job. On top of that, the IG found the contractor made things worse by using “a time consuming, error-prone” method of building the necessary software manually, instead of using an automated system.
Like many government problems, this sounds more complex than it really is. The Air Force needed to update a system, but due to its own poor planning and contractor mistakes, American taxpayers spent hundreds of millions on a system that was eventually scrapped.’
But, the Air Operations Center upgrades were only cancelled after a whopping $745 million was spent…er, wasted…on the failed project. It’s only a billion dollars within an already multi-trillion dollar tab. At this point, the national debt and the wanton approach that has created that debt is the equivalent of dumping gallons of water into the ocean.
You don’t just spend yourself into oblivion by accident. Incompetence and money-flushing on this level take effort. You really have to try to blow these sums of money on a year-in, year-out basis. And that’s precisely the point. In government, if you don’t spend it, your budget shrinks the next year as a result. That underlying reality is the driver of this fiscal insanity, and it constitutes an edict to those in charge of spending decisions in Washington to write blank checks, no matter the recipient or professed motive.
But hey, it’s only money, right? We all know that concepts like debt are only theoretical, especially on a national level. In the famed words of one former high-ranking elected official, “At this point, what difference does it make?”