9 Shockingly Stupid Examples Of Federal Government Waste

Getty Images

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Blake Neff Reporter
Font Size:

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma has released the second addition of his “Federal Fumbles” book chronicling waste in the federal government over the past few years.

The report highlights 100 different examples of federal inefficiency and waste in recent years. Here are 11 of the highlights:

1. $200,000 to study old fish bones.

The National Science Foundation awarded a $200,000 grant to assist in the creation of the paper “Fish as a delicacy and a staple: Social status and the daily meal at the 14th to 16th century town of Songo Mnara, Tanzania.” The paper is exactly what it says on the tin: An assessment of the fish bones discovered during archaeological digs at Songo Mnara, in order to see how social status influenced food consumption in the town.

2. $400,000 to dig up Icelandic graves

The small island nation of Iceland has been the subject of millions of dollars in grants. Some of them are scientific, such as a $61,000 grant to study volcanoes, but other awards are decidedly less so. Lankford singles out a grant of more than $480,000 to study religion on the island, specifically the role religion played in the development of political power between 870 and 1300. A great deal of this grant was to finance the location and digging up of Christian graves in Iceland.

“Iceland is certainly an important NATO ally and friend to the U.S.,” Lankford’s report says. “But that friendship does not require adding to our national debt to study the country’s 12th-century cemeteries.”

3. $1.3 million to discourage teenage tanning

Since 2015, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have directed $1.3 million towards efforts attempting to convince moms to prevent their daughters from tanning.

“The grantee hopes to prove a social media campaign can lead to decreasing mothers’ permissiveness for daughters’ using tanning beds and cause more mothers to support bans on teenage
tanning,” the report says. “Upon receipt of funding, the grantee promised to develop social media campaigns on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube to reach mothers.”

Despite the ambitious premise and heavy funding, the report notes the NIH has produced no metrics about how many people it hopes the campaign will reach.

4. $477,000 for anti-chewing tobacco text messages.

Noting that chewing tobacco use is particularly high among men in certain rural communities, and rural users have a harder time accessing other forms of intervention, the NIH hit on a stupendous way of discouraging the habit: Text messages from the government.

A $477,000 grant approved by the National Cancer Institute was used to fund a pilot program that would do just that: Enroll rural chewing tobacco users and test whether occasional text message interventions would help them quit.

5. $412,000 for a paper about a feminist approach to glaciology

Lankford highlights the role federal funding played in the creation of a legendary academic paper espousing a feminist approach to glaciology, the study of glaciers.

“Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions,” the paper says. That sentence is baffling enough, but what’s even more baffling in Lankford’s book is that the NSF paid $412,000 to Dr. Mark Carey to produce it.

6. $90,000 to explore gender roles in Shakespeare

Lankford doesn’t deny that William Shakespeare is an incredible playwright. But the Bard’s skill with a pen, he says, hardly justifies a $90,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund an all-male production of The Taming of the Shrew, coupled with an all-female production of As You Like It. The two productions each ran for about a month, and were justified as efforts to examine issues like “gender roles,” “sexuality,” and “ethnicity” within Shakespeare’s text.

7. $120,000 to study how court rulings made people feel.

Do you ever see a Supreme Court ruling, or even a local criminal case, that makes you feel angry, astonished, sad, or simply perturbed? Well, the NSF really wanted to know about that sort of thing. So it approved a $120,000 grant that would survey 1,000 people regarding their feelings about a particular Supreme Court case, to see whether any long-term “psychological impacts” emanated from the Court’s decision.

8. $300,000 on an exhibit of medieval smells

A $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities financed a traveling exhibition on the Middle Ages that included, among other things, an effort to immerse visitors in authentic medieval smells.

“While some people may be interested in an exhibit of medieval smells, it is not the responsibility of every hard-working taxpayer to fund olfactory experiences,” the report bluntly says.

9. $5,000 on Snuggies

Lankford highlighted a small but still particularly appalling example of wasteful federal spending at the University of Washington. As an NSF audit revealed earlier this year, researchers at the school wasted about $5,000 buying totally unnecessary products, including dozens of custom and embroidered Snuggie robes. The Snuggies were just the chief highlight from a catalog of more extensive waste, including a $23,000 trip to Hawaii researchers tried to bill to the NSF simply because they worked on an NSF project in their free time.

Send tips to

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact