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NASA Space The Almighty Buck Science

NASA Knows How To Party 341

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the open-bar-so-drink-up dept.
doug141 writes "NASA spends between $400,000 and $1.3 million on a party at every shuttle launch, according to CBS. Select personnel are treated to 5 days at a 4 star hotel. This year alone, they've spent $4 million on parties. NASA asked for, and was given, $1 billion more from the Senate this year. NASA proponents argue it makes more sense to give money to talented, productive people in exchange for scientific knowledge, than spend in on unproductive people in the form of straight welfare."
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NASA Knows How To Party

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  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:26AM (#21306525) Homepage

    Nothing to see here, please move along
    Great. Another party to which I'm not invited...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by phaggood (690955)
      >NASA spends between $400,000 and $1.3 million on a party at every shuttle launch,

      So, that's like, 3-4 times per year? Feh, they've got a long way to go before they reach Lohan-esque fete-tification.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rei (128717)
        I'll give a cautious agreement with this attitude.

        I work in a large multisite NIH-funded research project. There are regular all-hands meetings which involve well over a hundred people, designed for sharing information. These are typically catered events on college campuses that last for almost a week. The block rates for hotels are generally booked in hotels that are around $200 a night. There are typically a couple minor dinners and usually one major event. This event could be, for example, the reser
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:54AM (#21306729) Homepage Journal

      Great. Another party to which I'm not invited..
      Well, they did say that they were spending it on "...talented, productive people...", and you're posting on slashdot.
  • Morale booster? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:29AM (#21306553)
    While expensive, keeping the morale high at NASA means keeping the even more expensive astronauts alive.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:11AM (#21306837) Homepage

      While expensive, keeping the morale high at NASA means keeping the even more expensive astronauts alive.

      Yah, except if the article is correct, most of the people at this party are NASA contractors. Why NASA is spending money on wining and dining contractors instead of the other way around, I don't really understand.

      On the other hand I'm not sure I just immediately accept the truth of this article. It's written in a rather sensationalist tone, and presents NASA's side of the argument as a one sentence reply, no doubt taken out of context. That doesn't mean this isn't accurate of course, it's just a bit suspicious.
      • by teridon (139550) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:50AM (#21307153) Homepage
        Why NASA is spending money on wining and dining contractors instead of the other way around, I don't really understand.

        Contractors wining and dining federal employees is illegal.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Viper Daimao (911947)
          tell that to congress...
        • by Vellmont (569020)

          Contractors wining and dining federal employees is illegal.

          Yah, but we all know this kind of thing happens all the time. I'm not saying it's right or even should be tolerated, but why are we trying to impress or reward the contractors we've already given billions of dollars to?

          I can't get too upset at this of course. As a waste item this one is a tiny part of the problem.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Invidious (106932)
        When the contractors run your systems, build your parts, and provide vital support, well, how's that different from keeping the employees happy?
      • by rokkaku (127052) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#21307505)
        NASA has very few actual employees -- most everybody is a contractor. When I worked at Ames, we had a small handful of NASA employees in the building, with several hundred contractors. I'm not sure why NASA works this way (it seems less efficient to me), but I suppose it is easier to hire and fire and this way they don't have to deal with complicated government employment rules.
      • this is certainly a contestable claim. esp. since i'm sure most of the party attendees are upper management and thus haven't contributed scientific knowledge in years.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cyclone96 (129449)
          I've been to one, most of the party attendees are not upper management. It's part of the Space Flight Awareness [nasa.gov] award program. To quote the site:

          SFA Honoree

          This award is one of the highest presented to NASA and industry and is for first-level management and below.
          This award is presented to employees for their dedication to quality work and flight safety. To qualify, the individuals must have contributed beyond their normal work requirements to achieve significant impact on attaining a particular human sp
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by instarx (615765)
        Yah, except if the article is correct, most of the people at this party are NASA contractors. Why NASA is spending money on wining and dining contractors instead of the other way around, I don't really understand.

        Well mainly it's because contractors wining and dining government agencies is illegal. It's called kickbacks and bribery.

        I used to plan conferences and although $400,000 to $600,000 sounds like a lot, isn't really for meetings of a few hundred people (although it's definately first-class). These
  • by Sosetta (702368) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:31AM (#21306567)
    They spend less than one tenth of 1% of their budget celebrating their continued technological successes. That's probably less than ANY private company anywhere. It's not like they're not getting stuff done. Sosetta
    • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:55AM (#21307195) Journal
      They are not a private company with private money, its tax payer's money. If you had a box that said "NASA 4-star hotel celebration party" box on your tax form, how much would you put in? What if it was a "United States Postal Service celebration party"?

      As had been mentioned here many times, NASA has an important and worthwhile job yet lacks funding for many things. Is this how they spend their funds instead of spending it to do what they are mandated for? As you said, they are getting things done, so why should their budget increase (or in fact decrease) when they can just easily cut back the big budget parties?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blueg3 (192743)
        It seems you're not familiar with the percentages involved here.

        The approving-by-line-item analogy is dangerous. How would funding for Iraq be if you could choose not to pay for it?

        By comparison, the enormously small amount spent on NASA parties would be irrelevant to the average taxpayer.
      • by batkiwi (137781) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @04:15PM (#21308919)
        That's like saying the average household could save money by cutting down on postage stamp usage.

        While technically true it would have no bearing.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by GoofyBoy (44399)
          >While technically true it would have no bearing.

          Exactly why doesn't this have any bearing? Isn't it the small things that generates bigger rewards. Isn't Recycling movement based on this? Isn't micro-loan banks like Grameen Bank, another example? Also, NASA own programs need money (see below).

          What is the issue here is the question of is this a wise and responsible use of NASA's budget within its mandate? Its your taxpayer's money so its a valid question. "It doesn't matter" is an answer only gover
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's probably less than ANY private company anywhere.

      Careful with the absolutes -- I work at a 3-employee startup that's been around for a couple years and so far we've spent $0 of the company money on parties.

      But that's beside the point. NASA isn't a private company. They're paid from my tax dollars, so we're supposed to hold them to a higher standard. We're talking federal tax money, so this is cash that could have otherwise gone towards, say, paying down the crippling debt our country has sunk into.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ASBands (1087159)
        welfare
        1. the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being
        3. financial or other assistance to an individual or family from a city, state, or national government

        I think the Constitution refers to a different kind of welfare than the one the NASA Party Proponents are talking about. Anyway, I doubt they're changing, so assume the party submission position and give up your tax dollars.

        I'm all for NASA having a nice party every once in a while, as it

  • making sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by philmack (796529) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:34AM (#21306583)

    NASA proponents argue it makes more sense to give money to talented, productive people in exchange for scientific knowledge, than spend in on unproductive people in the form of straight welfare
    It Makes sense to me, too.
    ~Phil
  • Contractors? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:40AM (#21306627) Homepage Journal
    I don't see the value in doing this for employees of companies like Boeing - and after every launch? And I'd love to see if it is worker bees. Probably what it is, is managers. I don't know that, but it would surprise me if it's not the case.

    But in the big picture, it's not that big a deal.
    • by Detritus (11846)
      95% of the actual work is done by contractors. NASA's role is primarily management.
    • But in the big picture, it's not that big a deal.

      The dollar amounts? Not really, you're right. But in terms of mindset ... that's a different story.
  • Otoh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Arthur B. (806360) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:40AM (#21306631)
    There are probably no girls at the party
  • by bxwatso (1059160) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:54AM (#21306725)
    It's a valid business tactic to give valuable employees a party or vacation. It forces them to relax and savor their accomplishments, which money does not. I have known a couple of NASA engineers, and they were smart and dedicated.

    On the other hand, the TSA hosted a $500K party for its top employees a few years ago. I interact with TSA employees about 100 times per year, and they are generally lazy, sloth like goons. They are a disaster that does nothing to improve air safety.

    In the real world, a company run like the TSA wouldn't have a spare $500K to throw a party because they would be out of business, replaced by a more efficient contractor that does a better job. There is no mechanism for rewarding achievement and punishing failure in the government. Nearly all programs (yes, even under Bush) live on and expand despite proven failure.

    The problem with NASA throwing parties for its deserving employees is that it justifies throwing parties for the far more typical ineffective government hack that should really be let go.

    • by Bombula (670389)
      In the real world, a company run like the TSA wouldn't have a spare $500K to throw a party because they would be out of business, replaced by a more efficient contractor that does a better job.

      Maybe Blackwater, perhaps?

  • Honestly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:56AM (#21306737) Homepage Journal
    The cost to launch a shuttle is somewhere between 0.5 billion and 1 billion. That is one launch. The cost of a week at war is between 2-3 billion. The additional burden placed on local taxpayers for standardized testing, testing that was based on fabricated data during Bush's first education secretary's tenure at HISD, is immeasurable. And the head of heads of major private firms receive hundred of millions of dollars for borking the company to nearly bankruptcy.

    I add this last bit because if the wisdom of the free market indicates that a little money thrown away is a good investment, how can those low life in government be so arrogant as not follow suite.

    I certainly agree that it would be good if everyone would be deny themselves every available luxury. My food would be cheaper if the owner of my local restaurant would not own a hummer, not to mention my tax bill. My city could afford better education if they did not pay for downtown luxury offices and did not subsidize luxury sports arenas. School taxes would be much lower if we did not have luxury classrooms with lights and air conditioning. But everyone of us knows human nature is to do better work when on is appreciated, and when the environment is conformable. And if it takes .1% of the project budget to encourage the people to do a better a job, that might be a good investment. I would sooner see the parasites that leech off the education and military budget cut off than a single nasa party be canceled.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NonSequor (230139)
      Our national budget is insane. And even though each expenditure is just a drop in the bucket, it all adds up to a huge amount. If we ever want to get the budget under control we have to look at every little thing and ask, is this really worth the money we're spending on it?

      Million dollar parties just strike me as a bit excessive, even if they are just a tiny fraction of the budget.
      • by Vellmont (569020)

        If we ever want to get the budget under control we have to look at every little thing and ask, is this really worth the money we're spending on it?

        There's a limited amount of attention and oversight available. We simply just CAN'T look at every little thing. Do you sweat every single purchase, no matter how trivial (5 cents extra for toilet paper) and wonder "is it really worth it?" I doubt it, because you've got bigger concerns.

        If you really want to get the budget under control, you'd identify the bigge
        • by GoofyBoy (44399)
          >We simply just CAN'T look at every little thing.

          Even when its right in front of you, on the evening news of a major network? Thats not carefully preserving your valuable time and energy; thats just lazy.

          If you let those things that are right in front of you go, then you teach people thats its ok to waste and then it gets bigger and bigger. Thats how you get into the budget troubles what has been mentioned.

          >you'd identify the biggest places where we're spending tons of money, and not getting anythin
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Vellmont (569020)

            Even when its right in front of you, on the evening news of a major network?

            And what am I going to do about it? Call up my representative and waste his/her time on this minor waste, when there's much larger waste going on? So what if it's on the evening news. That doesn't make it any less of a distraction to the larger problems.


            If you let those things that are right in front of you go, then you teach people thats its ok to waste and then it gets bigger and bigger.

            Huh? We've already wasted a trillion dol
  • What a scandal! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Four million spent on parties in one year and now they want a billion dollars? Why not just force them to not hold pre-launch parties for the next 250 years so they can have the billion they want?

    The news media is just hyping this out of proportions; we're spending close to three billion a week in Iraq - most of it wasted on dishonest and inefficient contractors - and we raise eyebrows at a few million spent on rewarding people who work in a difficult and thankless job?
    • by Daimanta (1140543)
      That's a false dichotomy. It isn't or or. No I don't want to spend money on a lost war but I also don't want to spend money on someone else's parties.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:00AM (#21306763) Journal
    Okay, I just RTFA, and here's the real scoop:

    There is an awards banquet for flight safety held, apparently, at each launch, which occurs about three times a year. The awards cover 750 of what is likely tens of thousands of employees working for NASA and the contractors in the shuttle program. We're talking about a 1.5M awards banquet for an $8B/yr operation, or somewhere in the 0.01% range. Now I'm not saying that it's not a waste, though I'm curious where the seating costs of $20,000 for the shuttle launch come from, but the costs are not all that outlandish. Remember that one shuttle launch can really mean 4-16 different payloads, so there are a lot of people involved.

    Go figure out what a similar party costs just about anywhere. Flying someone in coach is going to run about $300-500, minimum, if you book in advance and choose non-refundable. 4 nights hotel (we assume you are travelling on day 1 and day 5, day 2 is the banquet, day 3 is the launch, day four is a cape tour and the show), $120/night is bare minimum in a metro area unless you like sleeping with roaches. You get a night banquet at a banquet hall - nice dinner, dessert, a little entertainment. Hell, my high school reunion was $80 a head, and it was pretty basic. $150 is probably more reasonable for the service. One night you get a free show. Wow. Somebody call the fun police. Cirque tickets are $200; a broadway production in an off town is $80. Transportation to/from/between - you aren't going to walk to the cape from Orlando - would you have preferred we rented them a car for $300?

    Where am I?...$300 plane + $480 hotel + $150 banquet and awards + nice show $120 + $300/2 for the car (we'll make them share) = $1200. Now, they came up with 400k-500k per banquet with 750 people...that's only $675 a person. I'd say they got a pretty good deal. $675 for 5 days and 4 nights plus a shuttle launch, dinner, and show? That's a freakin' bargain if you ask me.

    Anyway...you go find out what the budget is for the awards banquet of any 10,000 person company. Go find out what just the CEO and his/her spouse spend. This really will look like chump change.
    • by cyclone96 (129449) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @02:19PM (#21308267)
      Well stated.

      Full disclosure. I'm a low level NASA manager. I also have been a recipient of the award in question (it's called the Space Flight Awareness, or SFA). I won it years ago when I was a line engineer for a contractor (managers usually cannot get these awards).

      The article is unfairly one sided. NASA overall has very little "morale money", which is used to reward outstanding employees or significant contributions - things that are commonplace in the private sector. When we have an office party, or I bring in dinner for my guys that have to work on Christmas, it's out of my pocket. All my colleagues do the same. I can assure you that the sum total of this across the agency is a lot more than what the SFAs cost.

      They also made it out like some extravagant party - it really isn't. They pay for the flight (you have to cover your spouse, though), get you a hotel at the Day's Inn Cocoa Beach (or similar) for a few days, they drive you around on a tour, and feed you a few nice meals and let you meet some astronauts and agency officials.

      The reason why most of the recipients are contractors is that most of NASA employees are contractors. The way most contracts are billed with NASA is cost plus, and employee expenses (including the small awards that are given out) are billed back to the government. The contractors also do spend on some other awards out of their profits (which are relatively small on NASA contracts, in all fairness).

      While you may have some negative opinions about how well NASA is doing as an agency, we've got a lot of really outstanding line employees who do great work, and in any enterprise you need to reward that. When I got my SFA, I was 28 years old and had spent a year of 60+ hour weeks getting an avionics package on the Space Station working. I didn't get paid overtime for that...the SFA was a nice token from my management. Another guy on the trip won his for finding a problem that saved the government $12 million dollars. As a percentage of the overall workforce, very few people ever win this award (where I work, maybe 1 out of 50 has gotten this in the last 10 years, you have to do something exceptional). It's definitely worth the tax dollars that are spent on it - and I hope other federal agencies are using my tax dollars in similar ways.

  • by amightywind (691887) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:12AM (#21306853) Journal

    Sad that Slashdot chooses to be relentlessly negative about NASA, while touting the lilliputian efforts of Russia and China. The STS-120 repair mission on the ISS I saw last week was about the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Russia or China won't be able to build something like that for 50 years! NASA deserves a party.

    • I'd love to see NASA actually hire (not contract) the best and brightest to create the next generation flight vehicle. Build it all in house, and contract out nothing. If we could just declare a war on moon terrorists and get hold of $100-$150B in funding over the next 6 years, I'm pretty certain we could do a pretty damned good job.
  • by Firemeboy44 (1187205) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:21AM (#21306919) Homepage
    My father has worked on the booster rockets for 30 years as an engineer. This summer he was flown to Florida to watch a launch. They put him up in a hotel, had a receptions (where there were a hundred or so other folks), and in a small way showed their appreciation for the work he and the others had done. As I mentioned, he has worked there 30 years, and this was the first time he has been invited. There are hundreds of thousands of people who work on the shuttle program. I think it's a nice gesture.
  • What is a few hundred grand for an office party? Thats like the rest of us spending a few hundred on pitch-in when the boss tosses in free drinks.
  • by kbox (980541)
    ... The IRS spend $6 million on cocaine and hookers alone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Invidious (106932)
      Pft, if the IRS spent $6 mil on cocaine and hookers, I'd be much happier at my job.
  • by SEWilco (27983) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:43AM (#21307091) Journal
    Because NASA's business is stars, with billions of stars you'd think NASA could manage more than 4 stars in the hotels.
  • Strawman (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:48AM (#21307131) Journal
    'NASA proponents argue it makes more sense to give money to talented, productive people in exchange for scientific knowledge, than spend in on unproductive people in the form of straight welfare.'

    Yes, of course it makes more sense to reward productive people than unproductive ones but that isn't the issue. Those productive people are being given a million dollar party in exchange for nothing, they got their salaries and great benefits in exchange for their knowledge. There are numerous places that money could go that have nothing to do with welfare. It could be left in the hands of the productive people who earned it. It could be used to raise the ridiculous federal poverty level a few dollars so that those who are BOTH productive AND poor in this country can breath a little easier and maybe scrounge together enough to start to make something of themselves and easily repay that debt in taxes later. It could be used to partially fund a federal medical/prescription/vision/dental insurance program that is a fundemental public service, not welfare.
  • Government handles the development of huge projects via competitive procurements. That means big aerospace/defense contractors doing great work for us. NASA is very mission focused, so NASA needs to keep contractor churn to a minimum until the end of a mission (preferably) while retaining skilled contractors that want to work for their particular aerospace firms.

    I'm all for NASA rewarding their hard working contractors and government personnel.
  • What we are seeing in the comments above is an emotional response. The gut for many says "NASA good!" and so parties must be good, or harmless, or justified. The thing is, that's the way it works with every constituency in government. Is Social Security good? Maybe they should have a party! Is the Center for Disease Control good? Maybe they should have a million dollar party too! If you want to be rational you've got to rise above this stuff. You have to decide what exactly is good about NASA and pr
  • I'll bet the DoD spends more on dos like this than NASA does, but where's the outrage? FEMA spent millions on toxic trailers though I'm sure they didn't spend anywhere near as much on fake news conferences.

    Since I don't see the military-industrial complex going away anytime soon why don't we re-purpose it? Shift it towards a space-industrial complex. We could be spending just as much on space and making those same companies rich while benefiting Americans and the world at the same time. Alas hope doesn't
  • by DirkDaring (91233) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @12:32PM (#21307475)
    I was raised in a military family, I've been to more parties than I could count. The miltary probably spends a hundred times more per year. And where does the money go?

    Caterers bringing the food get paid. They got their food from somewhere, so whoever that is gets paid. That food was trucked in by someone, who gets paid. Farmers supplying the food get paid. And thats just the food.

    People seem to think its a total waste of taxpayer money.
  • Damn thats one hell of a party. I don't care what anyone says thats freaking excessive.
    At our office we're lucky if we get pizza or donuts after a big release.
  • What is their ROI on that? Perhaps they get back more then they payed for in e.g. goodwill.
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @01:04PM (#21307729)
    This is just cover for the stargate program
  • Money versus Value (Score:3, Interesting)

    by foxalopex (522681) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @02:15PM (#21308237)
    Company parties often make stressed and overwhelmed employees feel appreciated and improves the overall attitudes at an organization. I would say chances are your organization has low morale if you don't at least all celebrate now and then in some form or another. That said, what's missing in this article is how many people attend. If it's one of the tiny parties we're normally use to then sure a million seems like too much but if it's for a large organization like NASA then I wouldn't be surprised if that works out to be a resonable amount. Parties arn't cheap if a large number of folks attend.
  • hmm.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bigattichouse (527527) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @02:26PM (#21308313) Homepage
    I personally believe that we should throw a massive party for some of the most intelligent, hard working, well planning individuals on the planet who can successfully deliver delicate instruments into orbit on what amounts to a large bomb, and still get them home safely.

    Sounds better than throwing a huge party for a bunch of crappy musicians to give awards to each other for recycled music.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @02:29PM (#21308327) Journal

    If your total budget is in the billions, and you spend just one percent on entertainment, your entertainment budget is in the tens-of-millions.

    People are people, for cryin' out loud. At companies I've been that don't have an entertainment budget, executives understand that and pay out of their own pockets for parties. It boosts morale. It also switches people into a different mode of thought where little nuggets of ideas come from. You might spend 95% of your time there just BS'ing, but then somebody comes up with an idea that they wouldn't have come up with if they had just been sitting in a cube or a regular meeting.

    Nevermind that though. Even if you never discuss a single aspect of the business at a party, you are a human being. As such, you have certain needs, like eating and seeing other human beings. It has to be paid for, one way or another.

  • by leereyno (32197) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @04:55PM (#21309163) Homepage Journal
    Welfare, as we implement it, is morally wrong. It hurts the very people it pretends to help. In truth this is intentional. The people who call for welfare know that it is a poison pill that will lock those who receive it into their wretched existence, thereby guaranteeing a perpetual underclass that the left can use for propaganda purposes.

    You can't fix broken people. Some people are losers and always will be no matter what you say or do. These people are a very small minority. Then you have other people who have the potential to be something other than losers, but only when environmental and cultural factors are sufficiently good. There are a fair number of people like this. Welfare, and the culture of dependency that it creates, locks these people into being losers. People who might otherwise live modest but productive and happy lives are stuck in a syndrome of idleness and dependency from which no good can come. As I said before, this is entirely intentional. Creating losers whose existence can then be blamed on the larger society gives the left a powerful propaganda tool that they then use to attack capitalism and the liberal democracy upon which it is founded.

    Of all the things that this nation lacks, opportunity is not one of them. Poverty is a temporary condition for those who are willing to work hard and make wise decisions. Wealth is not assured, but economic security in a safe and sane community is all but guaranteed.

    That being said, what NASA is doing needs to be looked at. There are times when it is necessary to schmooze various people. NASA pays private companies for a lot of the things that it needs to function. Being able to schmooze some of the heads of those companies can make a difference when it comes to the terms of contracts. If spending a million entertaining some people saves 30 million on contracts, then that is money well spent.

    However, if this money is being wasted, then that needs to stop. Wasting tax money hurts the country twice over. First when the money is taken out of the economy, and second when it is not put to good use.

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