For years, politicians such as former Senators William Proxmire and Tom Coburn have highlighted government waste in a satirical way. For the past several years, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has published a similar list, titled “The Festivus Report,” (a reference to a fictional holiday on the sitcom Seinfeld), that lists instances of fraud and wasteful spending as a nod to the holiday’s ceremonial “airing of the grievances.” 

In a year in which CMS has asked for increased budget from Congress so it can bear down on physicians and more actively go after fraud, one would hope the government would approach all of its other branches with such zeal. If they did, they might have been able to avoid some of the following Festivus Report doozies:

• As part of the Paycheck Protection Program—instituted to help people get through the initial waves of the pandemic—the Small Business Association paid out $4.29 billion in loans to individuals who actually weren’t eligible to receive the loans or who received duplicate loans.1 Just over $3.6 billion went to people who were already on the Treasury’s Do Not Pay list (which includes those already convicted of fraud)!2 Also, nearly $700 million went to people that had already received PPP loans; the SBA didn’t actually check it’s own list of recipients. 

The main take away from this is that the SBA really doesn’t like checking lists.

• The NIH gave a college in Oregon $465,000 to observe pigeons playing slot machines.3 Now, the responsible part of my brain says this is a waste of money that could have been put to a better use, but my lizard brain wants to see pigeons hitting the slots. Did they arrive in a little pigeon bus from the pigeon senior center?

• In 2015, the master detectives at the Social Security Administration sensed something was amiss: Their SS rolls showed they had 6.6 million recipients over age 112. The problem was, there were only 42 people in the world that old.4 The issues didn’t end there. In 2021, the Office of the Inspector General discovered that the SSA made nearly $4.2 billion in overpayments that may not be recouped until 2049.5 The Festivus Report notes that the SSA deleted and can’t account for more than $1.2 billion due to an error in the system.5 On the bright side, maybe the SSA can get in on some of the better computers CMS is asking for in 2022.

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy,  fiscally-responsible New Year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to ask a pigeon who he’s got in the second race at Belmont. 


— Walter Bethke
Editor in Chief


1. SBA Inspector General. Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients on the Treasury’s Do Not Pay List, Report 21-06,” Page 2, SBA Inspector General, January 11, 2021.

2. U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service, “Do Not Pay Fact Sheet.”

3. Hackenberg T. An animal model of gambling in a laboratory-based token economy. NIH Grant Project Number 1R15DA050178-01. DA050178-01.

4. The Associated Press. Social Security Records Show 6.5 Million Americans are Aged 112.

5. The Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General. Audit report: Overpayments with recovery agreements that will extend beyond 2049.” Report A07-19-50775, p. 3.