While millions of Americans look for work, the Agriculture Department spent $300,000 marketing caviar, The U.S. Agency for International Development supplemented a $27 million pottery class and NASA spent nearly $1 million perfecting a menu for Mars.
And those are just a few of the dozens of expenses Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn identified more than 18 billion in savings this year in his annual "waste book."
"This 'let them eat caviar' attitude in Washington is evident in countless instances as the well-off are rewarded with the taxes paid by other hard-working Americans," the report says. "That is why important programs go bankrupt while outdated and outlandish projects continue to be funded."
While Coburn says Congress hasn't passed a budget since 2009, the government has doled out $11.2 trillion to fund programs. Some of them are essential, while a few others might cause Americans to seriously question the government's priorities.
Here are a few of the quirkiest splurges the government made this year.
Government takes a pass on football funds
While the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the Professional Golfers' Association make billions in profits, they are stil l considered non-profits. That means even though the NFL rakes in an estimated $9 billion a year in revenue, the NFL didn't pay income taxes on its earnings. The teams that make the profit are the ones who paid income taxes.. According to Coburn, the tax loophole means American taxpayers are losing out on $90 million a year in tax revenue from the professional sports industry.
"Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize sports organizations already benefiting widely from willing fans and turning a profit, while claiming to be non-profit organizations," Coburn's report states.
Food Stamps for the "munchies"
In New Mexico, Maine and Oregon, medical marijuana card holders who are also on food stamps were allowed to deduct the cost of their medical marijuana supplies from their incomes. The deduction leaves them with more food stamps.
"Marijuana has been linked to an increased appetite, known as getting the 'munchies' so perhaps it is no surprise the states of Maine, New Mexico and Oregon gave extra food stamp benefits to users of the illegal drug," the report says.
Other food stamp abuses noted in the report include people purchasing $2 billion worth of sugary beverages with food stamps this year.
And in Oregon, customers could also use food stamps to buy fancy coffee drinks like Frappuccinos at Starbucks as long as the kiosks were in grocery stores.
Coburn's team also criticized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for spending nearly $3 million advertising itself on the radio in states like California, Texas, South Carolina, Ohio, New York and North Carolina.
And the USDA Inspector General found this year that taxpayers were doling out $1.4 million every month to keep 2,000 dead people on food stamps and more than 7,000 people earning twice the benefits they deserved in Massachusetts and New York.
Government spending is literally "out of this world"
While NASA doesn't have a scheduled date for a mission to Mars, the government space agency spends nearly $1 million a year planning the perfect menu for red planet exploration. And NASA will pay six individuals $5,000 to eat space food and practice for a 120-day Mars mission in a remote area of Hawaii.
"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize the millions of dollars being spent to taste test Martian meals that may never be served is lost in a black hole," the report says.
NASA is also spending another $1.5 million creating an interactive, online game that simulate a Mars mission.
A penny "made" is no longer a penny saved
The Department of the Treasury lost $70 million this year on the production of pennies. It now costs more to produce the one-cent coin than it is worth because of the rising cost of zinc and copper. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has suggested Congress pass a law to allow the penny to be made of cheaper metals, but no action has been taken.
"Perhaps the most common consumers of pennies are couch cushions and sewer grates," the report states.
Reduced cell phones
If you have a cell phone and you pay your bill every month, you have helped 16.5 million poor Americans access their own phone. Every year, through the "Federal Universal Service Charge," a small fee on a cell phone bill goes to supplement a $1.5 billion program called "Lifeline." While the program has been plagued by inefficiencies, the cell phone program grew 43 percent last year.
The $1 million book club
The National Endowment for the Arts is handing over $1 million for book groups to "read, discuss and celebrate one of the 31 selections from U.S. and world literature." One library used $10,000 of the funding to take high school kids to see Mark Twain's house, host a picket fence decorating contest and pay for a Mark Twain interpreter to do a live reading.
The State University of New Jersey spent $15,000 to stage a live production of "Bless Me, Ultima" and used the rest of the money to hand out free copies of the book. And a group in Ohio studied the works of Edgar Allen Poe by taking participants on a graveyard tour.
The "culture" of greek yogurt spending
While PepsiCo might have made a name for itself by producing fizzy sodas, the company is looking to market itself to a healthier generation of consumers.
The Department of Commerce and the USDA have spent a combined $1.3 million to assist Pepsi in building a Greek yogurt factory in New York. The government agencies have helped Pepsi by constructing and modernizing a water supply system and building a road to the factory. Coburn says the spending is a waste as Pepsi is the "world's largest snack food maker" and takes in $66 billion a year.
Government funds study to make golfers more competitive
The government funds a lot of scientific studies, but one recent one was used to help golfers realize their full potential. The National Science Foundation gave Purdue University researchers a $350,000 grant to study how golfers use their imaginations. Using 36 golfers, scientists found that players who visualize bigger holes improved their putting score on the green.
The second bridge to nowhere
In Dayton, Ohio, the federal government spent roughly $500,000 to keep an unused bridge, which is not even connected to a road, in tip-top shape. In fact, on one side of the bridge, a no trespassing sign hangs. The bridge has not been used since a modern one replaced it in 2003. Meanwhile, there are more than 184 "deficient bridges in Ohio and 22,000 across the country that need make overs.
Schools get more vending machines
Junk food in schools has been a major topic of discussion since First Lady Michelle Obama implemented her "Let's Move" campaign, but a new solution costs taxpayers more than a half a million dollars. In order to get kids interested in eating healthy snacks, celebrity chefs helped design a new type of vending machine. The machines are stocked full of healthy wraps, yogurt, sandwiches and fruit, but cost nearly $11,000 a piece. So far, Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida used federal funds to buy 56 of the high-tech machines at a cost of $612,000. That is a fraction of the $3 million grant that will be used to start up a district-wide healthy food curriculum.
Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.