The Cable

A Friendly Reminder That Your Tax Dollars Are Paying $14 Million for Eggs

The federal government spends billions on big-ticket contracting programs. But smaller contracts, from providing fitness equipment to resurfacing gym floors, add up.

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It’s tax season, a time of year when we’re all reminded that our hard-earned dollars pay for everything from the weapons used by U.S. troops to the roads and bridges we travel on each day. They’re also paying for a basketball court in Oklahoma.

Hidden among the thousands of procurement opportunities offered by the federal government are many like the one for the new playing surface. And while there’s no doubt that much of what the government is asking for is sorely needed — including armored vehicles, equipment for security personnel, and funds for suicide prevention programs — a review of procurement notices shows needs span far beyond the obvious brick and mortars required to run a country. They include:

– $14 million dollars for eggs to be sold at commissaries, the “cornerstone of the military quality of life,” according to the General Services Administration’s most recent solicitation notice, updated Wednesday.

– An unspecified amount for beer and food “needed for an American style food counter operation” at a bowling alley at a military base in Spain.

– $6 million for sports equipment, including baseball supplies, billiards necessities, lacrosse sticks and cheerleader outfits.

– $53 million for fitness equipment — think of the stuff you see at a typical gym.

– $3.6 million for trophies, signs, plaques, ribbons, and other similar items.

– A modest $3,305 to refinish basketball courts at a base in Oklahoma.

– $9,800 to keep former President George H.W. Bush’s Houston office online.

– Up to $100,000 to renovate the judges’ chamber in the William O. Douglas Federal Building in Yakima, Washington.

– And keeping in the spirit of Easter, $84,675 for musicians to play and sing at Catholic ceremonies at Fort Belvoir, in suburban Virginia. How great thou art, indeed.

This list is just a glimpse of the 26,624 contracts, give or take a few, that the feds are offering. The government is also looking for lifeguards at a lake in California, fitness instructors, a $26,676 digital organ, and $501 for soups to be served to prisoners.

The sheer number of these opportunities, and the dollar amounts attached, make it easy to see how easily tax dollars can be lost in the morass of federal contracting. The Defense Department has never been able to pass an audit, and other federal agencies don’t have a much better track record.

But look at it this way: This should make your tax refund all the sweeter.

You can check out the entire database here. Feel free to send me your favorite examples of outrageous contracts.

Photo Credit: Joe Klamar/AFP

 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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