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Christmas for Government Waste! (Part 2)

Tuesday December 24th, 2013   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 9:41am PST   •  

norad_tracks_santaWhat is it about the Christmas season that inspires the federal government’s bureaucrats to celebrate the holiday at taxpayer expense?

In Part 1, we looked at how the U.S. Marshals Service had custom Christmas ornaments and other kinds of specialty swag especially made to boost the spirits of its workers. Which was wasteful enough, but then we found that some of the federal government employee recipients of those taxpayer-funded gifts used them to supplement their income by selling them.

So it’s not the thought that counts for the nation’s bureaucrats….

Speaking of which, let’s go back inside the minds of those responsible for spending taxpayer money. Do you remember what was going on in Washington D.C. in late September 2013? Right on the eve of the seventeen day partial shut down of the federal government’s operations?

Why, it was the annual, end of the federal government’s fiscal year
bureaucrat spending free-for-all, which we commented upon at the time:

Although we didn’t know about it at the time, it seems some of the federal government’s bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had plans of making spirits bright and dancing sugar plums in their heads, as Senator Tom Coburn reveals in the introduction to the 2013 Wastebook for federal government spending:

And just days before the impending shutdown, when much of Washington was bracing for a protracted closure of most government offices and activities, USDA decided to celebrate Christmas early by funding six Christmas trees projects and — in the spirit of holiday cheer — 35 different wine initiatives, including the creation of two smart phone apps to help “navigate to the next winery.”

But that’s just the start of it! In all, the USDA burned through $50 million in really questionable expenditures aimed at “promoting” U.S. agricultural products. The 2013 Wastebook describes it all with holiday spirit!

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sounded a lot like Scrooge this year by threatening to cut nutrition assistance for low income women and children, it was behaving like a secret Santa to special interests spreading good cheer and taxpayer dollars through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Here are more than a few other examples how the program spent $50 million to ring in the holidays early in 2013:

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. And the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association is one of the six projects involving Christmas trees that was funded. These included shearing, marketing and promoting Christmas trees. The program also supported at least five ornamental plant initiatives, including a project to “to increase consumers’ awareness and preference for Florida-grown ornamental plants by investigating determinants of consumer purchasing behavior such as personal health and wellness benefits and environmental and economic benefits and by developing contextually relevant marketing strategies to increase plant sales” and another to support seminars on ornamental plants at the South Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association conference.

Visions of Sugar-plums Dancing in Their Heads. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program had a sweet tooth for sugar producers this year and gave the plum growers reason to dance. The California Dried Plum Board received taxpayer dollars “to enhance the market for” prunes in Japan and South Korea. Funding was provided for “developing and implementing a comprehensive social media marketing campaign” for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, “organizing and promoting a Maple Weekend including a recipe contest, tours of sugarhouses, restaurant participation, and promotional activities” with the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, and partnering with the Michigan Maple Syrup Association “to increase the profitability of Michigan maple syrup producers by developing planting stock for new sugar bushes with a higher sap sugar.”

Global Santa Tracker. Just like Santa with his bag full of toys, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program traveled around the world this year spreading joy, with more than ten grants paying for international junkets. These included conducting the “USA Pear Road Show” in China, sending representatives from the Oklahoma Pecan Growers Association to international tradeshows, bringing wine connoisseurs from China to Washington state, supporting the participation of Puerto Rican coffee producers in the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe trade shows, hosting seminars on “cooking with pistachios and prunes” in Japan and South Korea, putting on “meetings, product showcases, trade tastings, and educational seminars” for Oregon producers in Asia, facilitating a bean grower field day in Mexico, supporting attendance at domestic and international trade shows for Michigan groups and companies, and assisting with a “trade development mission” to Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Holiday Wine and Spirits. Santa may enjoy a glass of milk with cookies to get him through a busy evening of delivering holiday gifts and cheer, but the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program showed a preference for wine. The program funded 35 wine related projects this year. These included creating two smart phone apps to help “navigate to the next winery,” promoting wine trails and sales, improving wine tasting room satisfaction, and developing a West Virginia wine trail publication, and hosting a Wine Pavilion at the South Dakota State Fair.

Making a List and Checking It Twice. When making a list of duplicative government programs, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is sure to be on it at least twice since it mirrors in many ways at least two other USDA programs, the Market Access Program and Value-Added Producer Grants.

While not all of the projects funded by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program were wasteful, nearly all were eligible for funding from other federal programs making the program unnecessary. The largest proportion of grants was provided for marketing and promotion, such as social media for strawberries and a YouTube video about the proper handling of watermelons.

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree: The “USA Pear Road Show,” promoting pears as far away as China, was one of the two pear related projects funded this year by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. While a flight to China was included, no partridge was actually involved in either project.

At this point, we thought we might share the USDA’s YouTube video for the proper handling of watermelons with you, seeing as they’re green and red which makes them a fit for the Christmas season, but we were unable to locate it.

Then again, if you ever have to wonder if something the federal government does might be wasteful, just see if the evidence for its existence disappears just like Santa’s cookies do on Christmas Eve….

Featured Image:
U.S. Government Printing Office: Government Book Talk

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December 2013