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1 Tracking Your Taxes on Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:53 pm


Tracking Your Taxes: NIH Spends Millions on Wasteful Research Studies
Some members of Congress are asking the National Institutes of Health to explain millions of dollars in grants that go to dubious projects overseas.
By William Lajeunesse
Friday, September 25, 2009

Lawmakers say more oversight is needed for funding to wasteful NIH studies
Lawmakers in Washington are calling on the National Institutes of Health to explain why millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on seemingly ridiculous research projects, including:

-- how dragon boating can help cancer survivors;

-- how canoes can help cultural identity;

-- how snorting cocaine creates anxiety.

In a letter to NIH director Francis Collins, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) on Thursday demanded to know the screening procedures and review criteria used to approve $1.6 billion in stimulus grants and another $20 million in grants from the regular NIH budget.

"It's outrageous," says Walden. "It's beyond embarrassing in my book. I don't think there's enough oversight being done there."

FOX News identified more than a dozen suspect studies, many of which were funded by stimulus dollars, and compared them to Walden's research, to come up with over 30 studies that appear to be wasteful and silly -- and often on subjects who are not American.

Among those grants was $73,000 to study whether the Asian tradition of dragon boat racing will enhance the lives of cancer survivors more than just walking; $65,472 to study the relationship between HIV and sex in St. Petersburg, Russia; and $700,000 for a study that examines how taxes, trade and politics affect tobacco sales in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations in Southeast Asia.

Researchers say these studies are important to provide a scientific research baseline, or that they result in programs that help people who are ill or have problems with addiction.

But some of them are beyond the pale, the lawmakers say.

"We're all for medical research ... but come on," says Walden.

The NIH is the primary federal agency that conducts and supports medical research, but money is tight and competition is stiff. Just 9,460 of the 43,467 applications submitted -- 21.8 percent -- received funding in 2008.

Walden said Congress could hold up funding for the NIH if it doesn't get answers. But, he admits, projects already in the pipeline will go forward.

"But spending $73,000 to study the impact of dragon boat racing on cancer survivors, I'm not sure how that gets us to the cure."

2 Tracking Your Taxes: The Earmark Kings on Fri Sep 25, 2009 11:02 pm


Tracking Your Taxes: The Earmark Kings
With Washington bleeding green, Congress' princes of pork are treating taxpayers like a giant ATM and racking up billions in earmarks for pet projects like a supercomputer that studies fruit flies, a trolley museum in Pennsylvania and a biotech association that doesn't even exist.
By William La Jeunesse
Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Ha., and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., are the self-appointed Earmark Kings of Congress.

In the next 16 days, Congress will spend more than $3 trillion in taxpayer money. To cover these programs, some Americans will be working up to three hours of each day.

Vast amounts of that money will be spent in the form of earmarks, specially designated pet projects that members of Congress use to bring federal funds back to their home states. Since 44 congressmen make no earmarks at all, that means the rest are doing more than their share. For example, in the House, just 4 percent of members took home 32 percent of all the bacon -- and all were members of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

With Washington bleeding green, some congressmen -- the princes of pork -- are treating you like a giant ATM and can't spend your money fast enough.

In the last two years, the self-described earmark king, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has sponsored earmarks totaling $2 billion dollars. This year he's at it again:

$12 million to monitor sea turtles and monk seals.

$5 million for a supercomputer to help study planets and fruit flies.

$8 million for a cultural exchange between villages that once made a living killing whales.

$24 million for the East West Center, a private think tank even President Obama wants to cut.

$500,000 for music enrichment programs for Native Hawaiian children -- part of $59 million for health and education programs targeted to Native Alaskans or Hawaiians.
Inouye is one of the last of a generation of unapologetic earmarkers who feel it's their job to bring federal dollars home. And when they reach Inouye's level of seniority -- he is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- they can bring home a lot. He once even appropriated $20 million for a museum where he was chairman.

VIDEO: $5 million robotic sailboat earmark

The top Republican spender, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, made waves in 2009 with the largest earmark ever -- $439 million to restore barrier islands off the Mississippi coast, a giant project that comes on top of $80 billion that taxpayers have already forked over to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

This year (in fiscal year 2009), Cochran helped sponsor 259 earmarks worth $1.2 billion, but he's now aiming for a dubious distinction: he wants $2.6 billion for 2010 -- a record for a single politician:

$201 million to his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, including $10 million for programs at the Thad Cochran Research Center.

$750,000 Mississippi Biotechnology Association building -- an organization that has no members and doesn't exist, and that got $450,000 last year.

$4.4 million to build fire stations, $14 million to improve drinking water in local communities (responsibilities typically left to the states).

$1.6 million for a mobile music lab.

$650,000 to a private Christian school (Piney Woods) on 2,000 wooded acres where student tuition is $31,400.

$400,000 to pay overtime for the Jackson Police Department to combat drug use.

$950,000 for the local Audubon Society, despite national Audubon assets topping $18 million.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., earmarked $120 million this year, and wants another $148 million for 2010:

$500,000 to improve the profitability of dairy farms.

$1 million to toward the $250 million Sky Shuttle, an urban Mag-Lev train for a university in southwest Pennsylvania.

$1 million for a trolley museum.


Tracking Your Taxes: Tax Dollars Being Washed Out to Sea
Since 1997 Congress has averaged around $100 million a year on beach replenishment projects, but the tons of sand that are dumped in front of luxury hotels and multi-million dollar real estate literally get washed away.
By William Lajeunesse
Thursday, September 10, 2009

East Hampton, N.Y., is one place where dunes with grasses have been put up to prevent erosion to the beach and the real estate market (AP).

Talk about money running through your fingers.

It's no surprise that many Americans -- who see tax dollars spent for waste and ineffective programs -- feel as though their dollars are literally being tossed out to sea.

But FOX News found one program that does just that.

Sand replenishment projects are allotted millions of tax dollars annually to "rejuvenate" beaches, often just steps from multimillion-dollar beach homes and luxury hotels.

From New England to Florida, North Carolina to California, coastal communities lobby Congress for money to buff up their beaches, even though many of these coastal states have set aside state funds for these projects.

Congress dumps up to $100 million in federally subsidized sand onto American beaches every year -- only to have it washed away by waves.

Taxpayers "replenished" one beach in Cape May, N.J., 10 times between 1962 and 1995 at a cost of $25 million. In nearby Ocean City, N.J., the beach was "replenished" 22 times between 1952 and 1995 for $83 million.

Another beach project in Encinitas, Calif., cost taxpayers $14 million.

Encinitas mayor Maggie Houlihan says it's worth it for locals and tourism, which brings in $43 million a year. "This is another part of maintaining an absolutely critical asset and the reason most of us move to the coast in the first place," she says.

"When you really think about how important the beach is to people's quality of life, it is money well spent."

For years, in an effort to save hundreds of millions of tax dollars, the Congressional Budget Office has recommended eliminating the "Beach Nourishment" program. The CBO projects a $285 million savings over five years if Congress eliminates federal funding for beach replenishment projects.

Critics say the projects are not only economically wasteful, but they pose a negative environmental impact. In one 2004 project in Port St. Lucie, Fla., newly placed sand turned as hard as concrete when it dried, trapping sea turtle hatchlings beneath the surface. The sand had to be entirely removed just two years later.

In May 2007 Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) tried to insert an amendment that would have ended the projects by diverting the money to levee and infrastructure needs. The Senate defeated his amendment by a 77-12 vote.


Tracking Your Taxes: Unnecessary Earmark Projects Linger
Special interest groups push Congress to give earmarks to projects year after year, no matter how wasteful.
By William Lajeunesse
Monday, September 14, 2009
Members of Congress defend earmarks as federal funds they need for projects that will help their local districts.

But the taxpayers' money goes to such projects as finding ways to utilize wood, preventing brown tree snakes on Guam and supporting California's vibrant wine industry -- in all 50 states and for much longer than originally intended.

Take "wood utilization" research. Since 1995, taxpayers have spent nearly $100 million to find ways to utilize wood. And even though 12 federal agencies already preserve, promote and protect trees and the timber industry, congressmen from 11 states tack on another $4 million a year for similar projects.

Money for shrimp aquaculture has been funded yearly since 1985, and lawmakers recently added 74 earmarks worth $76 million to help shrimp farmers in states like Arizona and Texas. This year they want $2.9 million more.

Other earmarks include: $15 million to prevent brown tree snakes in Hawaii and Guam.

Heritage Foundation economist Brian Riedl say some earmarks stay in the budget year after year, often because they have the same campaign contributors who are effectively buying a government grant.

"And once Congress develops special interest with the recipient, they keep going back to the well. And the result is no matter how wasteful and stupid some of these earmarks are, like utilization research, you just can't get rid of them," Riedl says.

Ireland has an economy many argue is in better shape than the U.S., and yet since 1986 U.S. taxpayers have given $265 million to that country for "economic and social development."

Taxpayers are still subsidizing the International Fund for Ireland to the tune of $14 million a year.
Taxpayers also subsidized peanuts with 10 earmarks totaling $4.8 million since 1997. Alabama lawmakers are asking for another $413,000 in 2010. This is in addition to the $8 million the USDA already spends on the peanut industry.

U.S. wine sales last year topped $30 billion, and yet California and New York lawmakers used your money to provide them $90 million in research. This year they want $7.6 million more. The table grape industry received its own $3.5 million grant, while the Center for Grape Genetics in upstate New York has pulled in roughly $2 million in each of the last 4 years.

Critics say if these programs really were important, federal agencies would include them in the budget. Fact is, most of them are not because they can't win a competitive grant and really are just pork, or something that benefits a pet interest or benefactor of a given lawmaker.

Thanks to Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, lowbush blueberry growers received 14 earmarks worth $3.4 million since 1995, not including the $173,000 they want again this year.

"The earmark system we have now has not always been this way. Fifteen years ago there were only 1,000 earmarks per year. Now there's 10,000 earmarks per year," Riedl says.

"The result is while it costs only $20 billion per year, these earmarks are used to persuade congressmen to vote for trillion-dollar spending bills So, they end up greasing the entire wheels of big government."

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