Special Report

10 Big Ways the Government May Be Wasting Taxpayer Money

10. Department of Defense scraps 16 planes for $32,000
> Cost: $468 million

In 2008, the Department of Defense spent roughly $468 million on a fleet of 20 planes for the Afghan Air Force. Sixteen of these planes were later scrapped, with proceeds from the scrapping totalling just $32,000. John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, noted that he saw 16 of the 20 planes sitting unused at an airport tarmac in Kabul in 2013. In a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, Sopko voiced several concerns about how the planes were disposed of and what the fate of the four remaining planes would be. As of July, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction had 318 ongoing investigations into contract fraud, public corruption, and theft, among other issues.

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9. Missile defense system misses the target
> Cost: $998 million

The United States has spent billions on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system intended to intercept incoming enemy missiles. But despite the billions spent and years of development, the program has just “a 30% success rate in tests that [also] fail to replicate a real world scenario,” according to Dr. Coburn’s Wastebook. In a 2013 report about the program, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Missile Defense Agency has “long-standing acquisition management challenges that hamper the agency’s ability to make wise investment choices … within budget and time constraints.” A 2012 report from the National Research Council also noted the limited ability of the GMD program, as then structured, to defend the U.S.

8. Pentagon spending $1 billion to destroy $16 billion in ammunition
> Cost: $1.0billion

The Pentagon currently plans to spend $1 billion — which the Coburn report notes is equal to the salary of more than 54,000 Army privates — to destroy $16 billion worth of ammunition. A recent GAO study cited by Dr. Coburn’s report found that this amounted to 39% of the Army’s total ammunitions inventory. However, the GAO study also noted examples in which the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps reclaimed ammunition from stockpiles of weapons to be disposed. The Department of Defense has noted that some of the ammunition may be outdated or banned by international treaties.

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7. Exploding claims of sleep apnea at the VA
> Cost: $1.2 billion

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays out benefits to disabled Veterans based on the extent of their disability. The VA rates disability on a scale of 0% to 100%, with veterans asserting they have sleep apnea automatically awarded a 50% disability. Dr. Coburn criticized this VA policy as “not based on sound medical science.” He added that, “it’s now become like a game to come home and apply for sleep apnea.” In reporting on sleep apnea for Military.com, Tom Philpott — whose work is cited in the Coburn report — wrote, “A 50[%] rating is a key threshold, making retirees eligible to receive both full retirement and VA disability pay.”

6. Five decades of controversy for the Job Corps
> Cost: $1.7 billion

The Job Corps is a Department of Labor program designed to help young workers build workplace skills. Participants in the program can earn their GED or a high school diploma and can also pursue college preparation or job training. According to Dr. Coburn’s Wastebook, however, the program is extremely expensive, costing about $45,000 per student per year. Additionally, just 59% of participants complete their training, and those who do not complete it have no obligation to repay taxpayers. Although the program has its critics, it also has defenders. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) recently said that, due to the Job Corps, “we have more future EMTs, chefs, nurses, carpenters, small businesswomen, and workers all over the country, ready to compete in the 21st century economy.”

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