Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has unveiled his annual “Festivus Report,” which tracks what he sees as “waste” spending by the federal government. According to the libertarian-leaning Kentuckian, that waste topped over $52 billion in 2021.
Since arriving in the Senate amid the Tea Party wave of 2010, Paul had made the federal budget one of his foremost concerns.
Like his father, 2008 and 2012 presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the younger Paul has decried U.S. military adventurism, the excesses of the post-9/11 surveillance state, and the perpetually unbalanced budget of the federal government.
The Festivus Report has been a staple for Paul since 2015, when he released his first edition of the report.
In the 2021 report, Paul calculated that federal boondoggles added up to a total of $52,598,515,585 - an amount Paul says could have been used to give everyone on Earth around $6.78, build 13,149 miles of four-lane highway, operate Veterans’ Affairs facilities for 4.5 months, or to fund the Department of Energy for nearly two years.
From ground-up ferrets to border walls for Middle Eastern countries to a federally-funded dinosaur film, these are some of the most striking examples of bizarre spending revealed by Paul.
Misappropriation of COVID-19 Funds Cost $40 Billion
Since January 2020, the U.S. government has spent more on relief packages for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus than it spent on World War II. And these relief packages have cost taxpayers tens billions in waste and misappropriated funds, Paul argues.
By far the largest expense listed was a $36 billion loss to “improper CARES Act unemployment payments.” The CARES Act, signed into law in March 2020, was the first major pandemic stimulus bill.
At the time, when uncertainty about the disease was at its peak, the bill expanded eligibility opportunities for unemployment, allowing those who normally would not qualify to receive unemployment payments.
Though it has since become clear that most healthy adults under 50 years old are at little risk of severe disease, federal expenditures authorized by the CARES Act have lagged behind the science.
While employers across the nation are desperate for more employees, many not-at-risk Americans have continued to collect unemployment checks under CARES Act guidelines despite being able to work at workplaces enforcing their own COVID-19 safety measures.
The second largest expense detailed by Paul was also the result of COVID stimulus legislation.
In total, Paul claims that the federal government spent around $4.3 billion on duplicate or ineligible Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, another relief policy that allowed employers to take loans from the federal government to ensure that their employees got paid.
DoD Spends Billions on Scrapped Planes, Abandoned Buildings, and Middle Eastern Border Walls
The next largest expenses come from the Department of Defense (DoD).
According to Paul, the DoD has invested $3.4 billion into replacing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, one of the military’s go-to tank-like assault vehicles that are used in part as troop transports. Efforts to replace the Bradley began in 2003, but the DoD has still not managed to build a viable replacement.
The DoD also lost quite a bit of taxpayer money during the chaotic and controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Ordered to leave immediately by President Joe Biden, the military left behind not only hundreds of American citizens and billions of dollars in military equipment, but also billions of dollars of U.S.-financed infrastructure and buildings. The evacuation has left around $2.4 billion of buildings sitting unused.
“Why are we spending all this money to build them in the first place?” Paul wrote. “What was once a mission to seek out and destroy the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks has become an exercise in—well, it’s unclear exactly what.”
Additionally, $549 million was spent by the DoD on military aircraft for the faraway desert nation, but these were “later thrown away” and sold as scrap for $40,257, Paul found.
Since 2017, the DoD has lost $773 million on uncollected debts for allies’ use of U.S. aircraft.
“DoD is responsible for billing and tracking countries’ usage of these goods and services,” Paul said of the discovery, noting that these aircraft were not supposed to be offered for free. “However, DoD apparently forgot about that part,” Paul quipped.
One of the DoD’s most bizarre expenditures involves a $250 million investment into building border walls around several Middle Eastern and North African countries.
At the same time, the Biden administration has left the U.S. southern border de facto open.
Upon taking office, Biden canceled several non-refundable U.S.-Mexico border wall contracts negotiated by Trump, leaving the wall’s materials sitting unused along the border. Since then, illegal crossings at the southern border have reached unprecedented levels.
One Million Trees for NYC, Solar Panels for Africa, and Other Climate Initiatives
Still, these expenditures are relatively tame compared to others on Paul’s list. Paul also exposed how federal money has been used for several odd climate initiatives, both in the United States and abroad.
For example, the federal government offered a staggering sum of $400 million to plant one million trees in New York City between 2007 and 2017, which comes out to around $400 per tree.
Proponents said that the project would “make New York City more sustainable” and “protect our planet.” MillionTreesNYC Director Morgan Monaco said that there was an additional goal: “to have New Yorkers form an emotional connection to trees.”
Some African nations also made off with a windfall in U.S. taxpayer funding. The Department of State, Paul says, devoted $179 million to funding green energy programs in Africa.
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Paul argued that this investment will actually hurt African nations more than help them.
“Operating renewable energy sources like solar and hydroelectric remain more costly to [African] citizens,” Paul said. “So, by … providing $179 million for renewable energy, we’re actually going to be sticking Sub-Saharan African consumers with hefty electricity bills.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also advanced some questionably costly climate programs. According to Paul’s findings, USAID has spent $11.3 million on “telling people [in Vietnam] not to burn their trash.”
Another $88 million USAID went to efforts to build irrigation systems in Afghanistan. Despite the nearly $100 million investment, these have gone mostly unused by Afghan farmers.
Ground-Up Ferrets for COVID Vaccines and Other Government-Funded Research Projects
The federal government has also been busy in the domain of scientific research. While some federally-financed research involves things like military technology, health care innovations, and space travel, some of its projects push the frontiers of human knowledge much less than others.
One of the most bizarre research projects highlighted by Paul involves $4.5 million in funding for a vaccine facility that ground up ferrets, among other inhumane tests.
“Since 2010, the American taxpayer has given Triple F Farms $4.5 million [to breed and transport ferrets] to COVID-19 and influenza vaccine testing laboratories,” Paul explained. A 2011 investigation into their facility included “video recordings of ferrets dying in feces, run over by carts, thrown alive into incinerators, hanging from wire.”
After these abuses became public, Triple F Farms received a $44,000 fine from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which Paul called “a minor slap on the wrist compared to the millions of dollars of your taxpayer funds they received before and after the investigation.”
Recent USDA inspections have shown that these problems are ongoing. But Triple F Farms still receives federal funding despite its inhumane and illegal treatment of animals.
Another federally-funded study by the National Institute on Aging, at a cost to taxpayers of $1.3 million, found that “hearing bad news decreases happiness levels.” In the same vein, the federal government financed a $352,000 experiment which concluded that “kids crave junk food and gain weight if they’re exposed to it.”
Finally, the National Institutes of Health spent $465,000 on an experiment involving pigeons playing slot machines, while the Food and Drug Administration spent $337,500 on an effort to fatten eels for human consumption.
Translating Books Into Georgian and Other Cultural Initiatives
A slew of odd cultural initiatives are also on the federal government’s bloated checkbook.
For example, the Department of State has spent $182,741 on an initiative to translate classic American books into Georgian, the language of a small central-Asian state with a population of around 3.7 million people—less than the population of Los Angeles alone.
“The books used are not objectionable,” Paul emphasized, “some economics textbooks, children’s books, and American classics like All the King’s Men and Invisible Man.”
“But,” he asked, “when did this become the federal government’s job?”
“In the United States, nearly one third of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading,” Paul noted. “‘Some 36 million adults in the U.S. don’t have basic reading … skills above a third-grade level,’ according to estimates,” the report reads.
“In case the bureaucrats have forgotten: your constituents are the American people, not foreign citizens,” Paul wrote.
Similarly, the State Department has spent $200,000 on an initiative to teach French people about American culture, despite the fact that U.S. culture already has an outsized effect on French culture and language. USAID, in the same vein, has also spent $150,000 on funding free field trips to Washington for Korean children.
But Paul notes that not all of the federal government’s cultural spending has been international.
New York City, for instance, got a grant of $25 million as part of a COVID-19 relief program to display art projects across the city. With the money, then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio introduced the “City Arts Corps,” which paid around 3,000 artists to publicly display creative works in an effort to “resurge the cultural scene,” DeBlasio said.
Another $14 million went to funding the Wilson Center, an upscale venue that’s often the scene of what Paul described as “swanky parties” for members of Congress.
“If you’ve not heard of the Wilson Center, it’s a small nonpartisan foreign policy think tank in Washington D.C.,” Paul wrote. “It’s the same as a private think tank, like the Heritage Foundation or the Center for American Progress, except it receives about $14 million a year from the Federal government.”
And the Wilson Center has gotten a lot of taxpayer money over the past several decades. According to Paul, this congressional party hub has received $300 million since 1976, while its aforementioned peers have received none.
Finally, the National Science Foundation spent $2.5 million on “a film about dinosaurs to inspire middle schoolers.”
“Yes, the government used $2-million taxpayer dollars to create a dinosaur-centric film in 2D and 3D, a 3-episode TV series, a fictional book and museum exhibits to ‘inspire’ middle schoolers to build interest in STEM,” Paul wrote.
Paul’s Plan to Balance the Budget
In his report, Paul also detailed what could be done to balance the budget.
A few years ago, Paul introduced his “Penny Plan Balanced Budget.” According to Paul, the plan would have cut “only one penny off every dollar spent by the Federal government.”
But amid record spending by the Democratic Congress, that plan will no longer be enough to balance the budget, Paul said. Now, the federal government is spending so much money that it would need to cut five pennies off of each dollar it spends to balance the budget.
During early debates on democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget draft, Paul introduced an amendment to the bill that would have done just that. However, the amendment was defeated by a supermajority, with several Republicans joining with Democrats to strike down the proposal.
Still, Paul said he would keep doing what he could to fight the problem. “The speed in which our debt is growing means we need ever more vigorous solutions to solve this growing problem,” he wrote.