Exposing government waste

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona answers questions from the crowd Thursday March 28, 2013 during a town hall style meeting at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/The Daily Courier, Matt Hinshaw)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has taken up the venerable Senate tradition of supplying an active watchdog over government waste. It is a much needed service.

In a recent press release, Sen. Flake announced that he has established a “March Madness” type of bracket listing for various wasteful projects. The “Egregious Eight” is culled from earlier reports on curious ways to spend taxpayers’ money.

Sen. Flake invites visitors to his Web page to vote on which of the eight projects they think is worse.

Candidates include $19 million dollars in subsidies to farmers who failed to sell their crops, $1 million paid to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency while they were placed on administrative leave pending investigation of charges of misconduct, $1.4 million for studies of cocaine addiction in monkeys, $210,000 to set up a manufacturing plant to put flavor into electronic cigarettes, and $150,000 for CT scans of sharks and rays.

The tradition of highlighting such bizarre expenditures was first established in modern times by Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., who served in the Senate from 1957 to 1989. He used to drive bureaucrats and government grantees crazy with his annual Golden Fleece Award which mocked wasteful government research.

A more sophisticated accounting of wasteful government spending was created by former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., with his annual Wastebook. But Sen. Coburn retired last year, leaving the field open.

Sen. Flake makes a fair bid to be his successor.