Of Monkeys and Saxophones: The Government Purchases Anything You Can Imagine

This post, written by Lauren Plotnick and Eric Jackson, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

There’s no way around it: As the world’s largest buyer, the federal government inevitably has to buy some strange and/or surprising items. The toilet paper spend alone is probably enough to fund a small school. And it’s clear that—while some may grumble about what the government “wastes” money on—some cuts have been made. In 2007-2008 the feds spent $100,000 on fanny packs, but none in 2013. We are truly in the waning days of the nefarious Fannypack Lobby’s influence.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some surprising commodities in the government’s 2013 spend. Important to note: We are certainly not making any value judgments here. It’s not our intent to say any of these purchases were wrong or wasteful. We just like to peruse publicly available government spend data now and again, and see what we find. It turns out, we find things like:

Live Monkeys

Total FY13 Spend: $368K
Most Common Type of Monkey: Female Rhesus Monkeys ($313K)
Biggest customers: Department of Health and Human Services

Obviously, monkeys are purchased by HHS for the purpose of medical research. The Center for Disease Control has used rhesus monkeys to test HIV treatments. Some of this year’s monkeys, for instance, were needed to test the effects of Tamiflu during pregnancy.


Total FY13 Spend: $125K
Biggest customers: General Services Administration ($66K); DOD ($43K); National Endowment for the Arts ($15K)
States That Also Purchased Saxes: New Jersey ($100K); Pennsylvania ($15K) Texas ($8.2K)

It’s fairly obvious why the National Endowment for the Arts would purchase saxophones, and entertainment for the military necessitates a few of Charlie Parker’s preferred instrument. What’s interesting is that when you look at the breakdown, there are a surprising number of soprano saxes being purchased, which means that somehow Kenny G’s influence is alive and well in our military.

The next two items, being booze and pot, are too scand-- oh, we just gave it away. You'll have to pop over to Public Spend Forum for the details on the federal government's more unusual spending habits.

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