John McCain Targets Rabbit Massages, Puppetry in 'America's Most Wanted' Spending Report

(Bomb-sniffing) elephants, (inspected) catfish, and (biting) dogs: the Arizona senator highlights these and other "outrageous" spending.

BRETTON WOODS

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, speaks during the 31st Annual Meeting of the Bretton Woods Committee at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Wanted: Elephants suspected of bilking American taxpayers.

Arizona Senator John McCain released a report Thursday "highlighting, naming and shaming outrageous pork projects funded with your taxpayer dollars," and it singled out those profligate pachyderms for the $50,000 grant they—or, presumably, those who research them—received to test out their bomb-sniffing abilities.

McCain, a Republican who took up the publication of an annual report railing against what he sees as wasteful spending and ridiculous earmarks from retired Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, labeled the grant one of 10 projects he deemed "America's Most Wanted."

Some programs McCain singled out:

No Swedish massage for rabbits

Taxpayers are footing a $294 billion bill this year to fund 260 federal programs that are "no longer authorized to receive tax dollars," the report concludes. That includes the National Institutes of Health, which paid nearly $400,000 in 2014 to study Swedish massage on rabbits. (The NIH said the study was designed to learn about massage as a treatment for chronic pain.) Of course, many of these agencies, which also include NASA, are almost certain to get authorization for funding if the government can agree on a budget. McCain also called out various Congressional committees that oversee these programs, including the Senate Homeland Security Committee, on which he sits and which he said should take a closer look at 14 expired programs.

Adventures with elephants

That's the name of the South African wildlife reserve that received $50,000 from the U.S. army in 2012 to study "whether African elephants’ unique and highly acute sense of smell could be used to sniff-out bombs." There had been anecdotal evidence that they could, but the study didn't come up with much, and McCain's report said elephants are unlikely to be useful in bomb-detection scenarios because of their conservation status. It's unclear why the yearlong 2012 study made it into this year's report. The Army's Research, Development, and Engineering Command said the study aimed to figure out if elephants' sense of smell had anything in common dogs' — which is "basically the gold standard for explosives detection" — so the commonality could be applied to electronics.

Strings attached

The National Endowment for the Arts, that perennial target for questions about the appropriateness of government spending, gave $30,000 to the Sandglass Theater, a Vermont-based organization emphasizes "advancing the development of puppetry as a unique and unusual theater form," according to its website. It planned "to use a portion of this grant to partially fund a 10-day" puppetry festival, which would include a show called White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show.

Catfished

The Department of Agriculture spends $14 million annually to inspect catfish, the reports says, while Food and Drug Administration also inspects them. The report cast the double inspections as a way to effectively stop imported catfish from getting onto American tables as a handout to domestic catfish farmers.

Nip it in the bud

The NIH did this one too: It spent nearly $400,000 in two grants to create a website to teach people about dog bites. The report notes that the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States all have websites on the issue, although the AVMA points out more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. to prevent dog bites. "This study builds from child development research and existing child dog bite prevention programs to design and evaluate a web-based intervention that teaches children safe interactions with dogs," the NIH said.

A grilling

It wouldn't be a report on pork without a mention of grilling: The Environmental Protection Agency awarded $15,000 to a device that would study pollution and health hazards associated with propane grills. An agency spokeswoman said the money was put aside for the independently chosen winner of student design competition on sustainability. 

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