Solar Beer, Killer Snails, and Unlicensed Llamas: New Report Calls Out Outrageous Gov’t Waste

By Lauretta Brown | December 1, 2015 | 11:20am EST
Authorities have lassoed two quick-footed llamas who had dashed in and out of traffic. (AP Photo)

( – Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) released a “Federal Fumbles” report Monday that calls out 100 examples of the misuse of taxpayer dollars through out of control government spending and regulation.

Some of the most outrageous examples include a killer snail card game for elementary school children, solar panels for brewers, and a USDA demand that the owners of a pair of celebrity llamas obtain licenses in order to be able to showcase their animals or risk fines.

The report initially noted that the national debt is “careening towards $19 trillion (yes, that is a 19 followed by 12 zeros), and federal regulations are expanding at a record pace.”

Here are 10 over-the-top examples of government waste and over regulation from Lankford’s report:

Truck Driver Weight Loss Program

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $2,658,929 in taxpayer dollars to fund a weight loss program for truck drivers. “From 2011 to 2015, NIH awarded Oregon Health & Science University a total of $2,658,929 to conduct a cell-phone-based program for a ‘weight loss competition’ and ‘motivational interviewing,’” the report said.

Studying the History of Tobacco Use in Russia

The NIH also announced in April 2015 a $48,500 grant to produce a book entitled, “Cigarettes and Soviets: The Culture of Tobacco Use in Modern Russia.”

According to Lankford’s report, “The supposed hook into NIH and public health relevance is that ‘understanding Russia's distinctive history may suggest different strategies for U.S. policy initiatives’ and that it can ‘provide insights into the successes and failures of government-led tobacco control efforts.’”

Media Ethics Training in India

The State Department announced July 2015 that it was seeking proposals for a media ethics course for journalists in India. “Since Indian journalists are ‘part of a global community of media professionals,’ as the ad put it, the course would supply ‘a baseline understanding of the international industry standards media should strive to meet,’” the report explained.

Unlicensed Llamas

Two llamas who achieved Internet stardom, inspiring the #LlamasOnTheLoose hashtag after escaping their farm in Phoenix, Ariz., brought their owners scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who informed them that “they needed a license to ‘showcase’ their llamas, even if people only took a few pictures with the llamas.”

Studying How Bugs React to Light

The National Park Service (NPS) thought a study of the responses of insects to artificial lights and noise in areas that naturally have little to no light was an excellent use of $65,473 in taxpayer funds. “Anyone raised in a rural area can attest that one way to attract insects is to turn on a light. This type of ridiculous spending is why American taxpayers have been saddled with a debt of approximately $19 trillion,” Lankford noted.

Solar Beer

The USDA spent $35,000 in taxpayer dollars to install solar panels at a northern Michigan brewery supporting seven percent of their annual energy needs as part of “the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which was created by the Farm Bill in 2002.” The report noted that “in 2015 a $13,810 grant was awarded to a Wyoming brewery, also to install a solar panel.”

Dancing Raisins to Promote Raisin Sales Abroad

The report noted that USDA Foreign Agriculture Service’s (FAS) Market Access Program (MAP) continues to provide annually “nearly $200 million in American tax money to companies and trade groups to subsidize the advertising, market research, and travel costs of their overseas product promotions.”

According to the report, “One annual recipient of MAP funding, the Raisin Administrative Committee, has received more than $38 million since 1998, including $3 million in FY 2015, to promote their products outside the United States.”

“One example of the use of MAP funds was a $3 million advertising campaign in Japan in the 1990s,” the report recounted. “The campaign featured the animated dancing raisins and used the theme song ‘I Heard It through the Grapevine.’ Tragically the song could not be translated into Japanese, and they just ran the ad in English.

“The result was incomprehensible shriveled dancing figures that disturbed Japanese children, who thought they were potatoes or chunks of chocolate. Moreover, their four-fingered hands made the viewers think of criminal syndicate members whose little fingers are cut off as an initiation rite. For some reason the Raisin Board struggled to sell their product in Japan,” the report added.

Study of Seniors Looking for Love

The National Science Foundation (NSF) spent $375,000 for a study that began in summer 2015, which aims at obtaining a “more comprehensive understanding of relationship maintenance efforts” for older adults. The report suggested that “unless this ‘federal’ for seniors develops policy solutions to bring down the debt, maybe this one is better left to the private sector.”

Killer Snail Card Game for Kids

The NSF also provided a $50,000 grant in support of “Killer Snail: An Interactive Marine Biodiversity Learning Tool.” The project is supposed to develop an eBook for elementary school students “told from a snail's point of view, and a mobile video game allowing players to experience and explore the life of marine snails.”

“Thus far, it appears the grant money has only yielded a physical game. Killer Snails: Assassins of the Seas is a card game in which the player has to ‘collect predatory cone snails that prey on fish, worms and other mollusks, to build a venom arsenal of potentially life-saving peptide toxins. Race your opponents to create the winning venom cocktail and win the game!’” Lankford’s report noted.

Study on Why Politics Stresses People Out

Finally, the NSF awarded a $149,000 grant for a researcher “to better understand which facets of social interaction about politics are most stress inducing, for which kinds of people, and in which contexts,” the goal being to decrease stress to “energize and enfranchise citizens who are discouraged by our current political system.”

“One could argue that the most stressful thing about politics is the waste and bloat of government spending, including researching topics such as this,” Lankford’s report suggested.

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