Share this article

print logo

Reed leads campaign against waste

You and your fellow American taxpayers have spent $356,933 studying the impact that cocaine use has on the mating habits of quails.

You also paid $120 million to deceased federal workers in 2010.

And you came very close to shelling out $20 million for a Pakistani version of "Sesame Street."

Are you unhappy yet?

Rep. Tom Reed is.

And that's why he and his staff have taken to scouring the budget and other sources for such examples of, well, unexpected federal spending -- and, once a month, doing all he can to publicize them.

Noting that the $15.7 trillion national debt was one of the reasons he first ran for Congress in 2010, Reed said that it's only natural that he join with other lawmakers, such as Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., who are also on the lookout for what they see as wasteful federal spending.

"We at least need to ask the question every day about every dollar we spend," said Reed, a Corning Republican whose Southern Tier-based district will stretch into Chautauqua County next year. "And when we identify areas that are wasteful, fraudulent or abusive, or just not that level of a priority, we wanted to be part of a process to really spotlight it."

Federal officials defend some of the spending items Reed has highlighted since his effort began in February, and Democrats dismiss his effort as a publicity stunt.

But to budget hawks, Reed is becoming an heir to the legacy of the late Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., whose monthly "Golden Fleece Award" highlighted similar spending items -- and frequently made national news in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I think that anyone who gets this sort of information out there is helpful to the effort to eliminate wasteful spending," said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, which regularly targets a lawmaker as the "Porker of the Month" for promoting wasteful spending.

Reed is doing just the opposite, "and certainly having a member of Congress take the time and effort to review the budget and highlight the most egregious spending items will continue to draw attention to the waste," Schatz said.

Coburn has been highlighting reports on government waste for years, and Reed said his office confers with the senator's office and Gerlach's office on such items.

"It's an informal thing we've been doing," Reed said. "There's no coordinated effort. We just kind of share the information and each decide individually which ones to release."

And since February, Reed's releases have been the most, well, colorful.

Whereas Coburn tends to take on such hardy perennials as unspent federal dollars and waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid, Reed seems to some to be on the lookout for shock value.

And that's what prompts some criticism of his efforts.

For example, in a news release last week about those coked-up quails, he said: "If someone wants to find out how cocaine impacts sexual behavior in quails and it is worthwhile, they should find a private source to fund it. It cannot be a priority for hardworking taxpayers to fund every study that comes along."

When asked about the study, the National Institutes of Health said it funded the project, which is under way at the University of Kentucky, because it is important to know the connection between cocaine use and sexual behavior.

"Understanding how drugs of abuse alter sexual motivation and thus contribute to risky sexual practices is important for developing effective prevention interventions," the NIH added in a statement.

The Japanese quail was chosen as the lab animal in the experiment because previous research has shown that it responds to stimuli in such studies, the NIH said.

Told about Reed's criticism of the quail study and other federal projects, Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, dismissed Reed's anti-spending efforts as a diversionary tactic.

"Congressman Reed's political theater is all an effort to hide the hundreds of billions of dollars that he wants to give to Big Oil and millionaires and billionaires" in tax breaks, Schwerin said.

"If Congressman Reed wants to get serious about cutting spending, he needs to stand up to his Big Oil contributors and say the middle class is more important, rather than just do press stunts," Schwerin added.

Then again, Reed thinks his efforts are paying off.

It all started last year, when he successfully pushed to kill more than $173 million in spending projects -- which included funding for a sewer in Tijuana, Mexico, and subsidies for the Presidio, the military base-turned-national park in San Francisco.

And last week, three months after Reed highlighted that $20 million U.S. Agency for International Development grant for a Pakistani version of "Sesame Street," the agency pulled the plug on the program.

The State Department said it was pulling funding because of credible allegations of fraud and abuse at the production company producing the program, but Reed said: "I hope some of our efforts weighed in on that issue."

Reed also conceded that he would like his efforts to have political ramifications.

"It's consistent with what we believe in" -- namely, a smaller U.S. government, he said.

Other spending items that Reed has highlighted include:

*$750,000 on a soccer field at the U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo BayC.

*A $30 million USAID project to aid mango farmers in Pakistan.

*$184 million in unused screening machines purchased by the Transportation Security Administration.

*$322 million spent on a new federal courthouse in Los Angeles that the Government Accountability Office concluded was not needed.

"I think each one has a different level of egregiousness," Reed said.