6 Projects You Won't Believe the Government is Funding

By Brian Reed
September 27, 2011

If the recent debt ceiling debate has taught us anything it's that the government knows how to spend taxpayer dollars. 

In 2010, the government spent $30,543 per household on all federal programs; $5,000 more per household than just two years ago, according to The Heritage Foundation, a public policy institute.

Under the current budget plan, federal spending is expected to increase to $36,000 per household by 2020.

To make matters worse, much of that federal spending has been found to be ineffective and wasteful.

After a five-year examination of government spending, federal auditors revealed that 22% of all federal programs failed to show any positive impact on the populations they serve. That inefficiency costs taxpayers a whopping $123 billion annually. 

But beyond just inefficient spending, let's not forget about the pork barrel spending. A Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) report identified 9,129 "pork" projects (projects unauthorized by Congress or by the President), which added up to a total cost of $16.5 billion for taxpayers.

[InvestingAnswers Feature: The 13 Most Absurd Pork Barrel Spending Projects of 2010]

Here are six ridiculous projects you won't believe the government actually spends money on:

1. A Snow-Making Facility in Minnesota

Cost: $6 million

Duluth is the fourth-snowiest city in the United States, so it makes sense that they would need a snow-making facility, right? 

The Spirit Mountain Snowmaking and Maintenance Facility supplies snow to Spirit Mountain Ski resorts when their annual 82.6 inches of snow isn't sufficient for their 22 downhill ski runs

According to a U.S. News report, a sum of $6 million dollars was secured by the mayor as a part of the $787 billion spent from the 2009 stimulus package. The mayor requested that the funds be used toward the snow-making facility in a U.S. Conference of Mayors report before the stimulus was passed.

2. Rearranging Desks at the SEC Offices

Cost $3.9 million

When the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) isn't busy busting crooks like Bernie Madoff, they like to freshen up the look of their office spaces. 

Less than two years after the SEC built its lavish headquarters in Washington, D.C., (which ran $48 million over its original construction budget), the department spent $3.9 million for employees to rearrange their desks and offices in the seven-story office building in an effort to "enhance communication." 

While the intentions to improve the communication within the department were good, the "Restacking Project" was ultimately considered not "worth the cost and time" by 81% of the 600 SEC employees interviewed by the SEC's own Inspector General.

[InvestingAnswers Feature: Are We Overtaxed?]

3. The Renovation of 37 Rural Bridges in Wisconsin

Cost: $15.8 million

#-ad_banner_2-#A large portion of the 2009 stimulus' funds were allocated to infrastructure improvement, but one planned project in Wisconsin raised eyebrows. 

The project renovates 37 bridges in rural Wisconsin at a cost of $15.8 million. So what's the problem? According to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, "the 37 bridges average 568 vehicles a day."  

A dozen of these bridges carry fewer than 100 cars a day, and some of the bridges in the funded group carry a maximum of 10 carloads a day.

Even if city officials decided to charge a daily toll of $1 per car on every one of those bridges (which average 568 cars per day), it would still take more than 76 years to repay the full $15.8 million to taxpayers.

4. Improving Energy Efficiency in a Tennessee Mall

Cost: $5 million

The government awarded $5 million in funding from the 2009 stimulus bill to add geothermal heat pumps to the Oak Ridge City Center, a floundering mall located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 

The nearly barren mall has struggled to attract visitors for several years, but developers hope that the new heating system will revitalize the space. The lower energy costs after the project is complete "should serve as a compelling lure to prospective tenants," said developer David Thrash. 

But is a new heating system and lower energy costs the key to attracting tenants and shoppers to a mall? Apparently it's a $5 million bet that the government is willing to take with taxpayer dollars.

[InvestingAnswers Feature: Save $400 on Your Electric Bill Right Now]

5. A Pizza Machine in San Jose 

Cost: $720,000

With a pizza machine that could churn out 800 pies a day to be dispensed throughout schools in the area, the San Jose Unified School District believed they had a fast and efficient alternative to ordering pizza from outside companies.

Once the district bought the machine, however, it turned out to be "sensitive," frequently breaking down for various reasons. Even when the machine did operate, district officials realized they didn't have enough delivery trucks to get all the hot pizzas to all of its schools in time.  

The $720,000 machine was eventually reduced to being operated solely on Fridays for pizza parties and was ultimately shelved after only two years and 2,000 pizzas. That comes out to a bargain price of $360 per pie. 

6. A Turtle Tunnel in Florida

Cost: $3.4 million

Turtles are certainly worthy of protection, but a $3.4 million underground turtle tunnel, or "eco-passage," proposed in 2009 seems a little exorbitant, even for some turtle lovers. 

The tunnel, built in Lake Jackson, Florida, and funded once again by the 2009 stimulus program, allows turtles to safely cross busy U.S. highway 27, which separates two lakes that turtles frequently move between. 

Let's just hope the turtles know how to use the $3.4-million-dollar tunnel.

The Investing Answer:  Now for the good news. This year, a bi-partisan moratorium on earmarks from the House has decreased the number of pork barrel projects making their way to the Senate. But for the questionable items that do manage to slip through the cracks of the legislative process, let's hope the money spent works better than the automatic pizza machine. 

[Still in the mood for government largess? Check out our popular feature article: The 5 Wealthiest Members of Congress.]