WASHINGTON — Colorado’s health care exchange is highlighted in this year’s “Wastebook” of questionable government spending, along with the millions of dollars it received in federal grants used to promote the fledgling Obamacare system.
The annual report authored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma lists 100 examples of wasting spending as well as low-priority spending by the federal government in 2013 that totals $30 billion.
Examples of wasteful spending discovered by Coburn this year include a study about romance novels, benefits provided to the Fort Hood shooter, and an extravagant purchase by the State Department to “purchase” friends for the agency’s Facebook page.
Several states were criticized for the public relations campaigns to promote President Barack Obama’s signature legislation including California, Oregon and Colorado.
Colorado is spending more than $20 million to promote the program to enroll 136,000 patients in the health exchange network by the end of March, but so far has only signed up 4,000 participants and a dog, the report said.
Colorado’s advertising campaign compares enrolling in Obamacare to winning at a casino, and also features an Elvis impersonator.
Nationwide, $379 million was spent promoting the Obamacare website that doesn’t work, an endeavor Coburn described as the biggest marketing flop since “New Coke” was introduced in 1985.
Coburn also criticized the U.S. Geological Survey for shutting down more than 100 critical gauges to warn of imminent flooding or lack of needed water.
The Geological Survey blamed the cuts on sequestration, but continued to spend money to fly drones across numerous states and count sage grouse in Colorado, pygmy rabbits in Idaho, elk in Washington, sheep and deer in Nevada and seals and sea lions in Alaska.
The drone systems are stationed in Colorado, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho and Montana, states were flood gauges were discontinued or threatened, the report said.
“While the USGS was counting sheep, other entities tried to fill the safety vacuum left by the agency’s decision to shut down flood gauges,” the report said.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, for example, paid to keep four stream flow gauges running that were essential in warning state residents of the devastating September floods.
“Had Congress, in particular, been focused on doing its job of setting priorities and cutting the kind of wasteful spending outlined in this report, we could have avoided both a government shutdown and a flawed budget deal that was designed to avert a shutdown,” Coburn said.
“There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps. What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices …” Coburn said.
Other examples of wasteful spending highlighted in the Wastebook include a $325,000 study that determined wives would find marriage more satisfying if they could remain calm during arguments with their husbands.
Fort Hood shooter Nadal Hasan has received nearly $280,000 in military benefits because the Military Code of Justice does not allow a soldier to be suspended until they are found guilty of the crime.
Of the federal funding intended to help recover from Hurricane Sandy on the Atlantic Coast, $65 million was spent on tourism-related television advertising.
NASA spent $3 million to study how Congress works, and a National Science Foundation grant of $150,000 was used to develop a math learning game based on a zombie apocalypse.
“This report speaks volumes about why confidence in government is at an all-time low. The hard truth is we’d much rather borrow than cut. The American people are right to expect more,” said Coburn.