The award for the most entertaining government publication of the Year has to go to Senator Tom Coburn’s Wastebook 2010. It’s a guide to the 100 most wasteful federal spending projects of the year. Coburn, known as a champion of fiscal responsibility in his opposition to earmarks and unchecked government spending, identifies $11.5 billion worth of wasteful spending. The reports gives each target a humorous and engaging title such as “Carrousel Museum Takes Taxpayers for a Spin” and “Federal Study Investigates Cow Burps.”
Unnecessary office printing costs taxpayers $930 million in waste each year.
The Department of Defense (DOD) spends $1.4 billion on office printing, 34% of which, according to the 2009 Lexmark Government Printing Report, is unnecessary. The average federal employee costs their agency an average of $500 each year in office printing. This doesn’t even factor in the negative environmental impacts of the 6.5 billion pages of paper consumed annually.
The printing of government publications by the Government Printing Office also takes a big hit. In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Sen. Coburn questioned the purpose of printing the federal budget, asking, “How many people actually read the printed budget of the President, the printed one? One, maybe two?”
While many state and local governments and federal agencies are now printing their publications digitally, Congress itself still hasn’t figured it out. The Congressional Record has been online for fifteen years yet it is still printed in paper at an annual cost of $25.25 million. ABC News’ Jonathan Karl says that about the only thing that the 4,551 daily copies are used for these days, “is filling up recycling bins on Capitol Hill.” Coburn shakes his said saying, “It’s all online.” Why are we still printing it? His answer: “Because we’re inept.”
Okay, blame it on librarians. Both the Congressional Record and the Budget of the United States Government are on the Government Printing Office’s Essential Titles List which mandates the need for certain publications be sent to depository libraries in paper or other tangible formats. The American Association of Law Librarians (AALL) supports their continued printing and paper distribution because they are “core documents of our democracy” and because the Library of Congress only recognizes paper or microfiche as archival formats.
GPO is also dinged for its pricing of a comic book about a Superhero Mouse that teaches children “why printing is important.” Anticipating high demand, GPO printed 5,500 copies but priced them to sell at $5.70 less than the cost to produce. GPO calls the loss a marketing expense. Coburn says that taxpayers, “who footed the bill for the project — might have another name for it.”
An agency video publication, “Snapshot of America” produced by the U.S. Census Bureau cost taypayers $2.5 million to run as an advertisement during last year’s Super Bowl. It tanked. Media critics gave it the lowest score as the worst of all the Super Bowl commercials. This was only one of many publishing projects in a $133 million campaign to educate Americans about participating in the census enumeration. To Coburn’s chagrin, “none of these strategies appears to have produced an increase in census returns.”
The Wastebook cites at No. 4 in the report a $615,000 prestigious National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the University of California Santa Cruz. This grant, one of 51 awarded by IMLS, is to develop a groovy, innovative, “socially constructed” archiving system to digitize photographs, flyers, T-shirts, and concert tickets belonging to the Grateful Dead. The report notes the net worth of the Jerry Garcia estate and Phil Lesh at roughly $40 and $35 million respectively and wonders why taxpayer funding for libraries is footing the bill to archive the band’s memorabilia?
My personal favorites of waste are the “Study of Why Political Candidates Make Vague Statements” (cost $216,884), “Study of Why Americans Voted in the Election” (cost $2.3 million), and the “Office for Retired Speakers of the House of Representatives” (cost $440,955).
Following Dr. Coburn’s prescriptions (he is an obstetrician), governments can save real money.
Let me give an example. Before we went digital, Georgia Loutensock at the Utah Office of Education sent 19 copies of every School Accreditation Report to the State Library for distribution to depository libraries. Now that she sends only digital copies to the Digital Library, her agency has cut their annual printing costs by between $1,000 and $1,200 or by 80%. Multiply that savings by the average 10,000 publications that we receive yearly, and the digital library is saving agencies of state government over $10 million each year in printing costs!
I’m hoping that the Wastebook will become an annual New Year’s tradition. It provides a wake-up call reminding the country of our need to trim the “wasteline.”
So, how much did Coburn’s report cost to print?
“Zero,” his spokesman John Hart tells Reuters. “We didn’t make a single printed copy. There’s something called the Internet.” Doh!
The Senator could have spent a few bucks, though, to hire a proofreader. It’s missing eight pages of its table of contents.
- Coburn, Tom (December 2010). Wastebook 2010: A guide to some of the most wasteful government spending of 2010. [PDF]
- Karl, Jonathan and Deen, Auzzie (20 Dec 2010). Most wasteful government programs of 2010. Senator Tom Coburn drafted a “Wastebook” guide to the most wasteful government spending. ABC News.
- U.S. Government Printing Office. (2009). Budget justification : fiscal year 2010.. [PDF; See E-1]