America’s biggest wastes of money ever
Nobody loves paying taxes, but sending your hard-earned dollars off to Uncle Sam is an unavoidable pain. Sure, tax dollars fund some pretty important projects, but sadly there are also a lot of stupid, useless, and just plain bizarre things that taxpayers wind up paying for too. From giving bonuses to employees who screw up to the most expensive roads in our country, these boneheaded uses of taxpayer money are sure to make you want your money back. Buckle up, we’re counting down to the biggest, most wasteful government project of all time. Can you guess what it will be?
30. “Doggie Hamlet”
To bark or not to bark, that is the question. Judging by the $30,000 grant given by the National Endowment for the Arts to Ann Carson, creator of “Doggie Hamlet,” our government says, “bark.” The outdoor production of a Shakespeare play is performed by a cast of dogs, interpretive dancers, a dog trainer, and a flock of sheep.
So far, “Doggie Hamlet” has been performed in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. We love watching dogs as much as the next guy, but is it really worth $30,000 to see them act out Hamlet? What’s next, “Kitty Macbeth”?
NEXT: This “green beer” will have you scratching your head.
29. Solar-powered brewing
Sunshine and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly, but we have to wonder if this project was really worth $35,000. In Michigan and Wyoming, the Department of Agriculture spent $35,000 installing solar panels at breweries to make your frothy brews a little greener, and not just on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Brewing and distilling do use a lot of energy, so while this isn’t the worst idea, it’s not exactly necessary, either. Next time you sip on a cold one, be sure to thank the sun and the U.S. government for finding a way to make your beer cost a little more.
NEXT: Speaking of vices, this government project in Colorado is another kind of green.
28. Giant joint sculpture
Colorado is one of a handful of states that has recently legalized recreational marijuana use, and based on this government project, they’re pretty proud of themselves. In 2017, using taxpayer cash, Colorado built a giant, glowing statue of a joint in downtown Denver.
Money for the project came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The statue, which also resembles a totaled car, is meant to warn motorists about the dangers of driving while high on pot. Critics of the groovy statue, however, think that its psychedelic style and glow-in-the-dark effects could actually encourage more drug use.
NEXT: This wasteful project really droned on.
27. Drone difficulties
Drones are a hot topic, but the money the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent on a set of drones in 2015 must have burned a hole in their pockets. Politico reported that the ATF had spent $15,000 for five commercially available drones. Regrettably, the agency didn’t clear that purchase before they put down the cash.
Once the ATF had their drones, they unfortunately learned that they did not have clearance to fly them. The drones and their $15,000 price tag were never used, and the American public footed the bill.
NEXT: This wasteful project will really “bug” you.
26. Bug studies
Everybody knows that when you turn on a light, cockroaches will scatter and moths will be drawn in. Apparently, this common knowledge wasn’t good enough for the National Park Service. They spent $65,473 on a study to determine the effects of light exposure on insects that spend most of their time in the dark.
Apparently, a bug study is worth more than the average American’s yearly salary, which according to U.S. Census data from 2015 is around $56,000. While we don’t yet know how many bureaucrats it took to screw in that lightbulb, we definitely won’t forget how much it cost.
NEXT: This agency is handing out bonuses instead of pink slips.
25. Bonuses for bad behavior
Cost: Over $68,000
Most employers wouldn’t allow these misbehaving workers to keep their jobs, much less give them bonuses. However, that’s exactly what the Drug Enforcement Agency did. In 2015, National Review reported that several DEA employees had been caught patronizing prostitutes on the job.
These employees faced small punishments, if any, and were soon back at work and a few thousand dollars richer. One employee got a bonus of $5,000 after being accused of sexually harassing an underling, while a director who knowingly allowed subordinates to visit prostitutes on the job took home a bonus of $68,000.
NEXT: Talk about monkey business! You won’t believe why the government spent money on this study.
24. Cheeky monkeys
You might think the government wouldn’t care a monkey’s bum about the results of this ridiculous study, but you’d be wrong. $230,000 in the wrong, to be exact. Curious about whether other animals associate the color red with romance, the National Institute for Health dropped a bunch of taxpayer cash on this weird study.
Macaque monkeys were shown a variety of images, like seashells and other monkeys’ behinds, to see if they responded with more passion to particular colors. It turns out the females of the species are attracted to red, but we’re not sure we needed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to find that out.
NEXT: This known fraudster found his next victim in our government.
23. Steven E. Riddick’s house
In 1976, Steven E. Riddick won an Olympic gold medal for his performance in the 4×100 meter relay. Since then, however, he’s had more than his fair share of run-ins with the law. Busted on charges like multimillion dollar check fraud and forgery, it looks like the government is Riddick’s latest mark.
In 2016, Riddick’s application for cash from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was approved for his frequently flooded home in Virginia. There’s just one problem. The government is shelling out $326,000 for Riddick’s house, which is itself worth $331,000, just barely more than the grant.
NEXT: Who better to do a study on political polarization than our own government?
22. Studying polarization
It definitely feels like we’re living in a more polarized political climate than we’ve ever seen before. It’s hard to tell if opinions are being shaped by pundits or vice versa, but is it really a problem worth throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at? Apparently, the National Science Foundation thinks so.
They gave the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over $400,000 to conduct a study on polarization. In the study, they attempted to determine whether media influences political polarization or if people choose media based on existing polarization. It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem, so maybe the government should have ordered a burger instead.
NEXT: Deadheads will love this next one. Everyone else, not so much.
21. Grateful dollars
Long-running jam band the Grateful Dead left behind a vast archive of live fan audio recordings, video, and other memorabilia. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, digitizing all the “Touch of Gray” band’s material took more than just a touch of green. The university spent over $600,000 taxpayer dollars on their Deadhead archive.
According to UCSC librarian Virginia Steele, “There is a lot of scholarly interest in the Grateful Dead, whether it’s studying the significant role that they played in our culture and society, or their management and how they ran the business.” Maybe so, but that’s still a lot of sugar, magnolia.
NEXT: Even the government wishes they could get more likes on Facebook, and you won’t believe how much they’re willing to pay for them.
20. Buying likes
Everybody wishes more people would like their photos on Facebook from time to time, but most of us don’t drop thousands on Facebook ads. According to Senator Tom Coburn, in 2013 the State Department spent $630,000 to get more fans and engagement with their department Facebook page.
So did their spending make the State Department Facebook page go viral? Sadly, they had no such luck. Less than 2% of the people who saw State Department ads went on to like or interact with their page, and the taxpayer dollars that were spent on Facebook ads will never be seen again.
NEXT: We’re finally hitting the million-dollar mark! Is that a bus stop?
19. Super bus stop
Cost: $1 million
In Arlington, Virginia, there is a bus stop that taxpayers built to the tune of $1 million. What could a million-dollar bus stop entail? Is it paved with gold or housing priceless artifacts? The truth about this bus stop is pretty disappointing and wasteful.
It features heated concrete to keep passengers’ toes toasty while they wait, and digital displays that show bus arrival and departure times. However, that’s pretty much all it actually does have. The million-dollar bus stop doesn’t even offer shelter from wind or rain. One rider told the Washington Post, “you can get pretty soaked in two minutes.”
NEXT: Who knew losing could have such a high payout?
18. Losers keepers
Cost: $1 million
The 2016 presidential election captured headlines, dominated late-night talk shows, and kept us all on our toes. However, even the most politically minded among us have probably already forgotten about Martin O’Malley. O’Malley is a former governor of Maryland and was a contender for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Don’t worry, we had to Google him too.
He didn’t last long in the race, but Senator Jeff Flake reports that this completely forgotten candidate received $1 million in taxpayer money to support his run for office from the Federal Election Commission. Winning isn’t everything, but do we really need to spend so much on a failed campaign?
NEXT: The government spent over $1 million on a study that literally nobody needed.
17. Redhead research
Cost: $1.1 million
If you’ve ever spent a day at the beach with a redheaded person, you’ve probably noticed that these pale-skinned people sunburn faster than you can say “wasteful spending.” It’s also common knowledge that sunburns can damage the skin and lead to melanoma in the future.
However, common sense isn’t good enough for the National Institutes of Health. As of 2017, the NIH has spent $1.1 million to figure out if redheads are more likely to get skin cancer. Instead of researching a cure for this terrible disease, a million dollars were thrown away to find out something everybody already knows.
NEXT: Brace yourself for another ridiculously wasteful study.
16. The difference between cats and dogs
Cost: $1.3 million
Cats and dogs have a rivalry as old as time, doing everything as differently as possible. When a dog wags his tail, he’s happy, but if a cat wags his tail, look out! While we do find our furry friends endlessly fascinating, this particular study on the difference between cats and dogs seems a little over-the-top.
According to Senator Jeff Flake, the government gave a $1.3 million grant to scientists studying how cats and dogs drink water. It turns out, dogs use their tongues as spoons, while cats flick water into their mouths. The study was so expensive in part because scientists had to build a robotic cat tongue to perform the maneuver (because disobedient cats aren’t about to drink water on command).
NEXT: Here comes a $5 million study that aims to solve one of life’s great mysteries.
15. Do college kids like beer?
Cost: $5 million
We’ve probably all lost sleep pondering this question at some point, so thank goodness the government took action to put our curiosity to bed. In a series of studies, the National Institutes of Health determined that not only do college students enjoy drinking beer, but they tend to like it even more if they go Greek.
It’s pretty shocking that frat boys and sorority girls imbibe more than other students, but the study’s incredible results don’t end there. Would you believe that college students also drink more on game days? Where would we be without this groundbreaking research?
NEXT: It’s time to talk about the IRS.
14. IRS email archive
Cost: $12 million
The Internal Revenue Service is not the most tech-savvy branch of our government. In fact, if you get an email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, it’s a good idea to make a few phone calls to confirm if that’s true. Scammers love to pretend to be affiliated with the agency.
However, it looks like the IRS scammed themselves in 2016. The agency spent $12 million on an email archiving system that they actually couldn’t use and never turned on. This enormous waste led to some important emails getting lost forever, along with a huge chunk of our taxpayer cash.
NEXT: We really wish the government would have put the brakes on this spending.
13. Idle cars
Cost: $13.5 million
Upkeep on a car can be pretty expensive, even if you’re not driving it at all. Several government agencies are learning this the hard way. The USDA, DOJ, DOD, and others have spent a combined $13.5 million to buy and store vehicles that they could not provide documentation to prove had been driven in over a year.
What a tremendous waste! In his 2017 report on wasteful spending, Senator James Lankford wrote, “Agencies should obviously have access to vehicles necessary to do their jobs. The American people should not continue to spend billions to buy, operate, and maintain a massive fleet of vehicles if agencies cannot show they are actually being used.”
NEXT: The weird and true story of how our government tried and failed to bring “Sesame Street” to Pakistan.
12. How to get to “Sesame Street”
Cost: $20 million
Growing up in America means Big Bird and Elmo probably taught you a thing or two about the alphabet and friendship. In an effort to bring some wholesome puppet-fronted entertainment to the children of Pakistan, our government actually spent $20 million. One-third of school-age kids in Pakistan don’t attend classes, so the show was intended to help them bridge the gap.
However, when allegations of corruption in the puppet theater being used for the program emerged, the U.S. pulled their funding. Big Bird can still tell us how to get to Sesame Street, but we wish he could also tell us how to get our money back.
NEXT: We spent how much on camouflage that stands out?
11. Unusable camouflage
Cost: $28 million
Camouflage has one job: to help its wearer blend into their surroundings. Thanks to one Afghan official with expensive taste, the Army made a $28 million mistake and licensed a camouflage print designed to mimic forest environments for our troops in the desert country. According to a New York Times report, the Pentagon already owned several suitable patterns when the decision was made.
“They picked the pattern based on a fashion preference, not by experts, but by the minister of defense,” said special inspector general John F. Sopko. “That was a dumb decision.” A dumb decision that ultimately cost taxpayers millions.
NEXT: We head into the top ten with a classic example of low-income housing done wrong.
Cost: $36 million
Built in 1954 for $36 million, the Pruitt-Igoe development in St. Louis, Missouri promised to replace dangerous slums with clean modern living for its residents, and at first it did. What happened next would become a cautionary tale for decades to come. The government had misjudged the costs of upkeep on the building, and residents’ rents weren’t enough to cover them.
The building rapidly fell into gross disrepair, and terrible violence broke out in its halls. Rents were raised, driving many of the residents away. The building ultimately was much worse than the slums it was meant to replace, and it was demolished in the 1970s.
NEXT: We spent a lot on this project, but sadly it never “took off.”
9. Flightless planes
Cost: $76.5 million
Nothing says outrageous spending like buying a plane and then never flying it, and that’s exactly what our government did. The Department of Defense and Drug Enforcement Administration spent $76.5 million on an ATR 500 that they ultimately never flew. The twin-propeller spy plane was purchased and modified for counternarcotics missions in Afghanistan.
However, the project hit continual snags, causing costs to balloon upwards. Additionally, by the time the plane was ready, we were no longer doing air missions in Afghanistan. We’ve heard of “too little too late,” but it sounds like this was a case of “too much, way too late.”
NEXT: These wild horses are bleeding us dry.
8. Wild horses
Cost: $80 million
Every year, taxpayers foot the bill for protection and care of a wild horse population that’s grown wildly out of control. The yearly fee comes out to $80 million, and even wild horse advocates aren’t happy about it. For one thing, there are now five times as many horses as the sanctuaries in the West can support.
This overpopulation leads to scarce food and water for the animals, and the vast spending on their care doesn’t do anything to address this current crisis. Though some horses are adopted out, it’s not enough to make a dent in the problem.
NEXT: We’ve spent almost $200 million on this project, and it’s not done yet.
7. Columbia River Crossing
Cost: $190 million
Interstate 5 runs north to south, connecting the western states of Washington, Oregon, and California. On the border of Washington and Oregon, the interstate has to cross the Columbia River, and building and maintaining that bridge has turned into a $190 million problem for the two northwest states.
Even after spending all that money, Washington backed out of the deal before it was completed. Some experts familiar with the situation estimate that it could cost another $282 million to finish it up properly. The project began in 2004, and Washington backed out in 2014, so it could be another decade or two before it’s done.
NEXT: Here comes another expensive bridge, but this one doesn’t even go anywhere.
6. Bridge to nowhere
Cost: $223 million
The “bridge to nowhere” has been a longtime embarrassment to the government. This Alaskan bridge would connect a tiny island to the mainland and make it possible to access the airport by car. However, with a $223 million price tag, many taxpayers and politicians alike have denounced the project.
Originally earmarked in 2005, it wasn’t until 2015 that the plans for this overpriced bridge were scrapped, but those funds sat in limbo for a decade. Alaska officials ultimately decided a ferry system would be a more practical and cost-effective solution for the residents of Gravina Island.
NEXT: These upgrades sound like a good idea, but the ballooning costs will blow your mind.
5. Air Force “upgrades”
Cost: $745 million
Upgrading Air Force operations isn’t a bad idea on the surface. This particular government blunder is all in the execution. The Air Force had contracted with an outside firm to help them upgrade their Air Operations Center network that is used to plan and coordinate air missions.
The upgrades were originally appraised at $374 million, but costs swelled and dragged on up to $745 million. Finally, in 2017, the Air Force canceled the contract to pursue other avenues, but not before spending about two times what they had originally budgeted. The upgrades are still not in place.
NEXT: You’d think this billion-dollar trolley was riding tracks made of diamonds.
4. Bling, bling, bling goes the trolley
Cost: $1.04 billion
The Southern California city of San Diego is starting to develop traffic congestion that could one day give Los Angeles a run for its money. With a weak public transit system in place, efforts to expand transit should be seen as helpful, but this expensive addition just seems wasteful.
San Diego spent $1.04 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation on just 10 miles of trolley tracks. That works out to about $100 million per mile. For that amount of money, 250 miles of highways could have been built instead. The billion-dollar trolley should start carrying passengers in 2021.
NEXT: We crack into the top three with another billion-dollar transportation project.
3. “Interstate” H3
Cost: $1.3 billion
This Hawaiian highway is considered one of the most beautiful roads in our country, but aesthetics aside, it definitely takes the cake as the most expensive. It cost $1.3 billion to build this 16-mile highway on the island of O’ahu in 1997. The highway connects the Pearl Harbor Naval Base to the Marine Corps Base on Mokapu Peninsula.
Highway 3 cost about $80 million per mile. It features high-tech tunnels that can detect carbon monoxide and smoke, and also features transitional lighting and exhaust fans. The highway was originally planned in the 1960s, but construction was delayed for decades due to protests from environmentalists.
NEXT: This billion-dollar expense is more about losing money than spending it.
2. Going postal
Cost: $5 billion
If the United States Postal Service was a private company, they would have gone out of business years ago. The USPS has posted billion-dollar losses over the past several years, and it shows no signs of getting out of the red and into the black any time soon. In 2015 alone, they reported $5 billion in losses.
With so many of us shopping online and using the mail more, why can’t USPS get their heads above water? The government has actually limited USPS’s ability to raise costs to meet their expenses, so they basically have no choice but to lose billions every year.
NEXT: You finally made it! Click ahead to see the most expensive government failure of all time.
1. Boston’s Big Dig
Cost: $24.3 billion
If you visited Boston in the ’90s or early aughts, odds are you spent a good part of your visit cursing the Big Dig. The Big Dig was a decades-long, sprawling tunnel project that was meant to someday ease congestion in the city. In the meantime, however, the Big Dig added frustration, traffic, and confusion to Bostonian commutes.
With a whopping $24.3 billion spent, the Big Dig has cost taxpayers more than three Hubble telescopes would cost. The project ran from 1991 to 2007 and was fraught with errors, from blueprints that didn’t line up to a tunnel ceiling collapse that tragically killed a car passenger.