[edited to add reference to Bair op-ed 3:22 pm 022713]
Back when William Proxmire was a senator and the Senate sometimes actually tried to deal with facts rather than convenient or mythological fictions, Proximre created something he called The Golden Fleece Award to highlight instances of wasteful government spending.
Now, let it be said early on that waste is rather like beauty--its recognition rests in the eye of the beholder. The Tea Party neocons see waste in most funding for science, whereas most intellectuals, academics and others see that as investment in the future--especially exploratory, speculative science testing the fringes of theory--which serves the public good. Similarly, most of the "deficit hawk" crowd see waste in government safety net programs, or programs that might (if the conditions now were to last for 75 years) create a large obligation in the future, but don't see waste in military expenditures or 100 years of subsidies for multinational giants like Big Oil and Big Pharma. Furthermore, the "starve the beast" crowd want to maintain most of the programs that give the plutocracy a powerful edge in the socio-economic world that tax so directly influences, while wanting to eliminate or substantially reduce most of the programs that barely offer some opportunity to the peasants whose productivity is usually the source of the economic gains of the plutocrats.
ASIDE: remember that the deficit hawk crowd overlaps a good deal with the "starve the beast" crowd, which overlaps as well with the "starve the poor" crowd. The deficit hawk crowd thinks deficits are awful when Democratic programs create them (but generally didn't squawk at the upwardly redistributionist tax cut programs of the Bush years, or the constantly creeping upwards military-industrial subsidies, etc.). The "starve the beast" crowd thinks most government programs that serve the public good rather than paving the way for the rich to get richer are bad. And the "starve the poor" crowd condemn all except the most meager social justice and safety net programs on the grounds that they are paternalistic and keep "the 47%" from exercising personal responsibility. Generally speaking, all of the above tend to disfavor downwardly redistributionist programs as "socialism" but favor upwardly redistributionist programs as "investments in the future" or "just plain fair" or "job creating" or traditional (and on and on).
That said, pointing out programs on which considerable money is spent without a showing of likelihood of success at a reasonably beneficial goal is often worthwhile.
The Golden Fleece awards have been carried forward by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a 501(c)(3) organization that protrays itself as a "non-partisan budget watchdog serving as an independent voice for American taxpayers [with a] mission ... to achieve a government that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and operates within its means." It's goal is to "increase transparency, expose and eliminate wasteful and corrupts subsidies, earmarks, and corporate welfare, and hold decision makers accountable." (from emailed release about the Golden Fleece award).
More transparency, less corrupt subsidies, less corporate welfare, and more accountability are all important. As Sheila C. Bair (former head of the FDIC from 2006 to 2011) put it in an op-ed in today's New York Times:
The yawning gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s and reached a 90-year peak in 2007, just before the financial crisis. The Great Recession narrowed the gap a bit, but now, once again, the richest Americans are vacuuming up what wealth is out there, a trend that Mr. [Emmanuel Saez, UC Berkeley economist] expects to continue.
...I fear that government actions, not merit, have fueled these extremes in income distribution through taxpayer bailouts, central-bank-engineered financial asset bubbles and unjustified tax breaks that favor the rich. ...
Skewing income toward the upper, upper class hurts our economy because the rich tend to sit on their money--unlike lower-and middle-income people. ... .[M]ore fundamentally, it cuts against everything our country and my party stand for. government's role shouldn't be to rig the game in favor of 'the haves' but to make sure 'the have-nots' are given a fair shot.
So the Golden Fleece target is worth considering. They picked "Department of Energy for Federal Spending on Small MOdular Reactors." This is the nuclear-reactor-in-every-basement idea, for which another half billion dollars (in addition to $100 million already provided) in corporate welfare is planned. The corporations, not the federal government, will own the R&D and licensing rights. The government is, in other words, getting fleeced.
The federal government is in the process of wasting more than half a billion dollars to pay large, profitable companies for what should be their own expenses for research & development (R&D) and licensing related to “small modular reactors” (SMRs), which would be about a third of the size or less of today’s large nuclear reactors.
[Autumn Hanna, at Taxpayers for Common sense, said,] "Unfortunately, these technologies have an equally long tradition of expensive failure. If the industry believes in small modular reactors and a reactor in every backyard – great – but don’t expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab.”
The federal government already paid for a version of SMR R&D when small reactors were designed for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet. Now some highly profitable companies – including Babcock & Wilcox, Westinghouse, Holtec International, and Fluor Corporation -- are at the federal trough for another round of federal support for small modular reactors that could go into suburban American neighborhoods. Id. (TCS release)
This kind of tax expenditure subsidy for major corporations is just another example of corporatism in action in today's economy, often as part of a tax code that is rigged to favor the rich, from the preferential treatment of capital gains to the preferential treatment of fund managers' "carried interest" compensation income; from the subsidies provided for hugely profitable industries like oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, IT and real estate, to the subsidies provided to the rich through charitable contribution deductions for amounts they never invested. It is a part of the growth of plutocracy and inequality, as big corporations, their managers and owners garner most of the productivity gains and use their lobbying prowess to ensure that they also garner incredible amounts of unnecessary financial support from the federal government through direct subsidies (Agribusiness payments to corporate farmers) or tax expenditure subsidies (percentage depletion allowance and "domestic manufacturing deduction" and R&D credit and active financing exception and the allowance of offshore captive reinsurance companies, etc.). All this amounts to redistribution upwards to the wealthy and the multinational corporations that they mostly own--amounts funded by ordinary taxpayers.