Examples of Government Waste

Report Budget and Spending

Examples of Government Waste

September 14, 2005 3 min read
Brian Riedl
Brian Riedl
Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
  • The federal government cannot account for $24.5 billion spent in 2003.
  • A White House review of just a sample of the federal budget identified $90 billion spent on programs deemed that were either ineffective, marginally adequate, or operating under a flawed purpose or design.
  • The Congressional Budget Office published a "Budget Options" book identifying $140 billion in potential spending cuts.
  • The federal government spends $23 billion annually on special interest pork projects such as grants to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or funds to combat teenage "goth" culture in Blue Springs, Missouri.
  • Washington spends tens of billions of dollars on failed and outdated programs such as the Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Economic Development Association.
  • The federal government made $20 billion in overpayments in 2001.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development's $3.3 billion in overpayments in 2001 accounted for over 10 percent of the department's total budget.
  • Over one recent 18-month period, Air Force and Navy personnel used government-funded credit cards to charge at least $102,400 for admission to entertainment events, $48,250 for gambling, $69,300 for cruises, and $73,950 for exotic dance clubs and prostitutes.
  • Examples of wasteful duplication include: 342 economic development programs; 130 programs serving the disabled; 130 programs serving at-risk youth; 90 early childhood development programs; 75 programs funding international education, cultural, and training exchange activities; and 72 federal programs dedicated to assuring safe water.
  • The Advanced Technology Program spends $150 million annually subsidizing private businesses, and 40% of this goes to Fortune 500 companies.
  • The Defense Department wasted $100 million on unused flight tickets, and never bothered to collect refunds even though the tickets were reimbursable.
  • The Conservation Reserve program pays farmers $2 billion annually to not farm their land.
  • Washington spends $60 billion annually on corporate welfare, versus $43 billion on homeland security.
  • The Department of Agriculture spends $12 billion to $30 billion annually on farm subsidies, the vast majority of which go to agribusinesses and farmers averaging $135,000 in annual income.
  • Massive farm subsidies also go to several members of Congress, and celebrity "hobby farmers" such as David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, Scottie Pippen, and former Enron CEO Ken Lay.
  • The Medicare program pays as much as eight times the cost that other federal agencies pay for the same drugs and medical supplies.
  • Congressional investigators were able to receive $55,000 in federal student loan funding for a fictional college they created to test the Department of Education.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers has been accused of illegally manipulating data to justify expensive but unnecessary public works projects.
  • Food stamp overpayments cost $600 million annually.
  • School lunch program abuse costs $120 million annually.
  • Veterans' program overpayments cost $800 million annually.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) overpayments cost $9 billion annually.
  • Better tracking of student loan recipients would save $1 billion annually.
  • Preventing states from using accounting tricks to secure additional Medicaid funds would save several billion dollars annually.
  • Medicare contractors owe the federal government $7 billion.

Sources: see Brian M. Riedl, "How to Get Federal Spending Under Control," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1733, March 10, 2004, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/bg1733.cfm.


Brian Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Brian Riedl
Brian Riedl

Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute