Local, state, federal, and foreign governments spend massive amounts of taxpayer money on projects that often end up being a total waste. Here are ten of those projects.
10. U.S. Census Bureau Super Bowl Ad
It’s a well-known fact that many people tune in to the Super Bowl just to watch the commercials. For this reason, companies spend big money to get their 15 minutes — actually 30 seconds — of fame. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau decided it wanted a piece of the action. So, the agency spent $2.5 million in taxpayer money to run what ended up being ranked as the worst Super Bowl ad in history. But, the bureau stood by its decision. In fact, the agency even argued that for every 1 percent increase in mail-in responses it received, it would save $85 million sending workers door-to-door to collect census information.
9. A Maglev Train
Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, was supposed to make history in 2002 with what was set to be the nation’s first magnetic levitation — a.k.a. maglev — train. The train was supposed to transport students to and from their classes, but technical glitches, development problems that ate up the train’s $14 million budget, and a lack of funding led to the train (which never worked) sitting idle for quite some time before it was taken down and some portions of the elevated track were removed and sold as scrap. In all, more than $16 million went into this project, including a $7 million loan from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
FUN FACT: This project wasn’t a total waste. Students admit to using the remaining portion of elevated track as an umbrella to shield themselves from the sun and rain.
8. Empty Buildings
Did you know that the government holds onto several hundred thousand unused and underused buildings? Yep, it’s true. According to Reader’s Digest, the government is holding onto 770,000 of those buildings — which includes old schools, firehouses, offices, and more — as of 2016. But, it wouldn’t be so bad if those buildings were just sitting there. They actually require maintenance such as basic power, mowed lawns, and pipes that won’t freeze. And, as you probably guessed, those maintenance costs really add up. So, just how much is the government wasting on these empty buildings? About $1.7 billion annually!
7. Unread Printed Documents
Federal agencies spend an insane amount of money on unnecessary printing costs. For example, $28 million is spent each day printing over 4,500 copies of congressional records, which also happen to be available online.
The government also prints the Federal Register — a document outlining government meetings, decisions, proposals, etc. — every day. Yet, many of the copies are never even read. What’s more is that each member of Congress automatically receives a new copy daily, despite the fact that the contents are available for free online. According to Reader’s Digest, there was a bill introduced in 2017 to stop the government from automatically printing the Federal Register every day. According to the bill, the government would save an estimated $1 million annually by doing so.
6. The Bridge to Nowhere
Russky Bridge, or the “Bridge to Nowhere,” as it’s referred to by critics, was a $1.1 billion structure built in 2012 specifically for an economic summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (Apec) that lasted two days. The bridge is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge, with a central span of 3,662 feet. It connects the city of Vladivostok, Russia, to Russky, an island with a population of just over 5,300. Russky Bridge can handle 50,000 cars a day, but according to an article published by loveMONEY, the bridge rarely sees anywhere near that amount of traffic.
5. Ryugyong Hotel
Construction began on the Ryugyong Hotel, located in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1987. Since then, it has consumed 2 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product (GDP). This 105-story, 3,000-room hotel was supposed to officially open in 2012, but it remains unfinished due to poor quality materials, electrical shortages, and other issues. It was reported earlier this year that there were new plans in the works to resume development. Included in the plans were two skyscrapers in the nearby area.
4. An Airplane Mural
Back in 2005, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board gave Alaska Airlines a $500,000 grant to paint a Chinook salmon on a Boeing 737. Dubbed the Salmon-Thirty-Salmon, the painting symbolized the role Alaska Airlines plays in the state’s fishing industry.
FUN FACT: There’s a Salmon-Thirty-Salmon II. Unveiled in 2012, the new painting is nine feet longer than the original. Eight people from Associated Painters Inc. in Oklahoma City worked around the clock for 27 days to paint the plane. They used four gallons of Mylar paint to create an iridescent sparkle over the nearly 3,500 fish scales. The crew also airbrushed more than 90 percent of the fuselage with 21 different colors.
3. An Underused Airport
Mirabel International Airport in Montreal, Canada, opened in 1975 as a potential replacement for Dorval Airport. It was the world’s largest airport at the time and cost taxpayers CA$500 million — the equivalent of US$1.8 billion today. Unfortunately, the airport had its share of problems from the start. For one thing, it was in an inconvenient location (26 miles outside Montreal), and, as a result, passengers were not all that interested in making travel plans with this airport. Airlines soon followed suit and abandoned the airport for Toronto. Consequently, the terminal building was demolished. On the plus side, the airport is still in use for cargo flights, and a few movies have used the vacant site to film there.
2. Hamster Fights
People pay good money to watch fights, and the National Institutes of Health is no exception. According to an article published by Reader’s Digest, they paid more than $3 million ($306,000 in 2015 alone) to Northwestern University researchers over the course of 20 years for them to watch hamster fights. Some of the hamsters were injected with steroids, and another hamster was put in the cage to see if the drugged hamster would be more aggressive and protect its territory. Other hamsters became “trained fighters” through two weeks of face-offs. Again, this was to see if they would be more aggressive. Thankfully the fighting came to an end when animal activists pressured the university’s lab to cut the program.
1. Quail Sex
According to an article published by Reader’s Digest, the U.S. government spent at least $518,000 in federal grants to study how cocaine affects the sexual behavior of Japanese quails. But, like all animal studies, the researchers were trying to tie this into human behavior — more specifically, how cocaine abuse affects risky sexual behaviors in people.
So, why did they use quails instead of mice or rats? According to Scientific American, “quail have a VERY stereotypical mating pattern. The males, in particular, are highly motivated to mate guard and to mate with female quail… It is relevant to human behavior in the sense that some drugs, including cocaine, enhance this behavior, thereby modeling the enhanced sexual motivation that occurs with humans during drug use. Not only that, while rodents are very strongly influenced by olfactory cues, quail are visually oriented, which makes them, in this way, more similar to humans.”
Your turn! Comment below with some of your own examples of wasteful government spending.