By Alexander Bolton - 12/08/09 05:33 PM EST
GOP senators on Tuesday highlighted “pure waste” in the billions of stimulus funds spent this year, including money for fossil research in Argentina, puppet shows and to protect cruise ships from terrorist attacks.
The Obama administration has spent $217 billion in economic stimulus funds as of the end of November. A new report issued Tuesday by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, concluded that $7 billion was wasted or mismanaged.
The senators also noted that researchers at Penn State University received $1.57 million to search for fossils in Argentina and that a liberal-leaning theater in Minnesota, In the Heart of the Beast, named after a famous quote by leftist leader Che Guevara, received $100,000 for socially conscious puppet shows.
A White House spokeswoman on Tuesday responded to the GOP report by saying Coburn’s previous reports on stimulus spending have been filled with “false or misleading claims.”
"In the end, even if there are a few unwise projects, it is only a handful out of the over 50,000 projects that have been approved to date,” said Liz Oxhorn, a White House spokeswoman. “The real question here is whether Recovery Act critics will at long last acknowledge that well over 99 percent of the projects are sound, effective, and working as promised.”
Coburn stood by his report, claiming that “two hundred and seventeen billion dollars of this money is out the door and at least 15 percent of it is pure waste."
“This is about highlighting the inefficiency of the wasteful stimulus program that isn’t going to do what it said it was going to do at a time when we’re running $1.4 trillion deficits,” Coburn added.
The administration allocated $133 million to renovate the Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Ore., by installing a vegetative façade of plantings to improve the building's insulation. McCain and Coburn noted that a much larger new federal building was built with the same state-of-the-art façade at a similar cost in San Francisco in 2007, raising questions as to why the Portland project is so expensive.
The report highlighted $6 million that went to the New York advertising firm Young & Rubicam to advertise the transition from analog to digital television. GOP lawmakers criticized the project for only creating three jobs.
It also noted $4.7 million that Lockheed Martin received to conduct advance research of supersonic jet travel and more than $2 million in stimulus funds that went to pay for new pipes to pump recycled water to the Sharp Park Golf Course, which the San Francisco City Council considered closing because of the threat it posed to the California red-legged frog.
“Half the contracts awarded without [being] subject to full and open competition and went out for a fixed price,” said McCain. “Whenever you do this, you end up with outrageous awarding.”
Two million dollars in stimulus money went to build a replica railroad as a tourist attraction in Carson City, Nev.
A dinner cruise company based in Chicago received nearly $1 million in funds to combat terrorism.
Half a million dollars went to Arizona State University to study the genetic makeup of ants to determine distinctive roles in ant colonies; $450,000 went to the University of Arizona to study the division of labor in ant colonies.
“I had no idea that so much expertise concerning ants resided in the major universities of my state,” said McCain. “I say that with an element of pride, but I’m not sure it's deserving of these taxpayers’ dollars.”
The State University of New York at Buffalo won $390,000 to study young adults who drink malt liquor and smoke marijuana. The National Institutes of Health got $219,000 in funds to study whether female college students are more likely to “hook up” after drinking alcohol.
The University of Hawaii collected $210,000 to study the learning patterns of honeybees, and $700,000 went to help crab fishermen in Oregon recover lost crab pots.
Coburn and McCain criticized Vice President Joe Biden, who was tasked with overseeing the spending of stimulus funds, for not paying closer attention.
“It shows poor judgment in how we’re spending the $787 billion,” said Coburn. “It ultimately rests with Vice President Biden — he’s in charge of the stimulus plan.
“If you go back and look at his [Senate] voting record, he never saw a spending bill he didn’t like,” Coburn added.
“In his words, he’s the sheriff,” said McCain.