Congressional leaders from both parties assure their colleagues there’s nowhere to cut. It’s preposterous – and now taxpayers can help prove them wrong. Let’s get started, because the ever-rising federal debt surpassed $21 trillion last month.
This means, on average, each federal grant amounted to more than $1 million. Not every grant is wasteful, but there are plenty that are highly questionable.
Politicians in both parties love to spend your money, and we found that pork barrel spending is bipartisan. Of the top 10 grant-receiving congressional districts, five were represented by Democrats, while five were represented by Republicans. Of the top 50 grant-receiving districts, 27 were represented by Democrats, while 23 were represented by Republicans.
Now, taxpayers around the country can help uncover wasteful spending in their own backyard using our OpenTheBooks interactive mapping tool
. We mapped all federal grant funding – zip code by zip code – so taxpayers can call out the waste and abuse costing tens of billions of dollars.
all federal grant making in any U.S. zip code, each marked on the map with a pin. Just click a pin (zip code) and scroll own to see the results rendered in the chart beneath the map.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was the biggest porker – doling out roughly $4 out of every $5 in federal grants. The total grant tab at HHS? $421 billion.
Consider these examples of HHS waste. (We’ve included the names of congressional representatives for the zip codes where the grant was received).
- Sex-Ed for Prostitutes: Barbara Lee, D-Calif. – The California Prostitutes Education Project received nearly $1.5 million from HHS to teach sex-ed to prostitutes. The project seeks to teach prostitutes about safer sex and needle use in a way that’s respectful to its clients’ lifestyle and choices – even though prostitution is illegal in California and 48 other states.
- Designing Condoms: Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass. – More than $200,000 funded a new condom design to address "a lack of adequate lubrication," currently a "universal drawback" in other condom designs. The grant recipient – a company called Hydroglyde Coatings with the sole mission to design the perfect condom lubricant – should fund its own research and development.
- Video Game for Your Future Self: Robert Wittman, R-Va. – More than $650,000 funded video games designed to "make the future feel close," allowing adolescents to explore their future selves. These games are titled "My World of Dreams," "The Valley of Others," "Disappointment Bridge," and "The Sea of Hope."
- Pedestrian Training in China: Terri Sewell, D-Ala. – The University of Alabama received $183,750 to develop a virtual reality platform to teach children how to cross the street – about as far from Alabama as possible.
- E-Diary for Micro-Aggressions: Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. – Northern Illinois University received $173,089 from HHS for a four-week study in which "radically diverse bisexual women" documented their experience with micro-aggressions using a daily e-diary.
But the waste wasn’t limited to HHS. Ten other agencies doled out more than $1 billion in federal grants in fiscal year 2016 – and many of these agencies are off mission.
- Galactic Animated Cartoons: Mo Brooks, R-Ala. – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded $2.5 million in grant funding to the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission to produce two seasons of "Space Racers," an animated children’s cartoon in which the main characters embark on several galactic adventures.
- Zoombinis Computer Game: Katherine Clark, D-Mass. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) granted more than $658,000 to redevelop a 1990s computer game called "The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis" where children create their own small blue creature – the Zoombini – to help them through adventure challenges.
- Hobo Day: Kristi Noem, R-S.D. – A grant for nearly $12,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funded South Dakota State’s Historic Hobo Day where students dress up as "hobos" and parade through the streets.
Then, we found billions of dollars subsidizing for-profit companies. Fortune 100 companies can’t argue they needed the $3.2 billion in federal subsidies between fiscal year 2014 and 2016. For example, Boeing received $774 million in federal grants over three years. But Boeing didn’t need the funding – it reported $95 billion in 2016 sales revenue.
Public and private universities alike hoarded federal grant dollars, receiving a total $35 billion in fiscal year 2016. Johns Hopkins University received more than $770 million in fiscal year 2016 grants. The university even boasts that it’s the "nation’s leading university recipient of federal research dollars." But Johns Hopkins can’t argue it needed the funding when it has $9 billion in assets and $6 billion in annual revenues.
Still, Johns Hopkins received a grant for nearly $30 million to "strengthen the health system in Mozambique," six separate grants totaling $5.2 million supporting male circumcision in African countries, and another $1.25 million grant to research the design and efficiency of wind farms.
Government waste isn’t new, but things seem more out of control than ever. How do we stop this insanity? Politicians love spending your money, and change will require well-informed, vigilant taxpayers to hold them accountable.