Waste report: Tax dollars going to Indian reality TV, overseas advertising

By Alexis Levinson

As the government struggles to deal with the rising national debt, Sen. Tom Coburn’s office is out with a report detailing ways that the country — and taxpayers — could save some money, including cutting subsidies to an Indian fashion reality television show and ending funds to help multimillion-dollar companies advertise.

The report, entitled “Treasure Map: The Market Access Program’s Bounty of Waste, Loot and Spoils plundered from Taxpayers,” looks at twitter, (MAP), which is run by United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). FAS’s mission is to help U.S. agricultural companies sell their products in foreign markets.

The purpose of the MAP program is to help lessen businesses’ costs for overseas marketing.

Congressional spending rules mandate that the program be funded, but its funds do not appear to be going to good use.

According to Coburn’s report, much of the money is used to help multimillion-dollar companies whose budgets could likely afford to pay for the marketing. For instance, Blue Diamond Growers, a big tree nut company, “reported $3.3 billion in sales over the past five years,” meaning, “its annual sales are almost three times the amount USDA spends each year on the entire MAP program. Yet the company has received $28.2 million from MAP since 1999 to market its almonds in foreign countries.

Another recipient is a reality TV show in India called “Let’s Design” — a fashion design show in which contestants use cotton to design outfits. The program was created by Cotton Council International, which got $20 million from MAP to help it do so. The purpose of the show is to promote the use of cotton abroad.

According to the report, in India, people are unlikely to buy American cotton as the country “produces close to twice the amount of cotton as American farmers, and is a net exporter.”

Other taxpayer funds have gone to help “create Japanese Twitter accounts to promote American beef in the land of the rising sun,” and to help out industries like the National Confectioner’s Association, a trade group that includes Hershey’s and Jelly Belly.

Coburn calls the program a “case study of federal inefficiency and overlap,” and notes that even President Barack Obama has questioned its usefulness. In his budget proposals for FYs 2010 and 2011, he wrote, “MAP’s economic impact is unclear and it does not serve a clear need.”

“The time has come,” Coburn wrote in a letter prefacing the report, “to debate whether the federal government should be in the business of promoting private market goods to foreign buyers.”

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