James Lankford’s ‘Fumbles’ report includes spending on Russian wine study, mariachi program

March 5, 2019 GMT

Sen. James Lankford on Tuesday released his latest “Federal Fumbles” report intended to highlight waste and efficiencies in government spending, which included federal dollars going toward items ranging from a study on Russian wine to a mariachi apprenticeship program.

Mr. Lankford said the report is intended in part to spark a broader debate about finding solutions to rein in a federal debt that recently topped $22 trillion.

“A lot of times people say there is debt or there’s [a] deficit and everyone nods their head,” the Oklahoma Republican told reporters on a conference call. ”[It’s] the hard part about proposing the solutions for it. That’s where the conversation seems to drop off.”

The report said that in 2017, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded a $50,400 fellowship to a professor at Sonoma State University, which resulted in an examination of how Russia used its wine industry to befriend Europe in the past.

“I’m not real sure why the federal taxpayer should have to do a study of Soviet wines,” Mr. Lankford said. “I understand why the wine industry would want to do that study. I don’t understand why the taxpayer would need to be able to do that study.”

The report also said the federal government has given out more than $700,000 in grant money since 2001 for a Mariachi Master Apprentice Program in San Fernando, California.

Mr. Lankford said those are illustrations of the kind of problems that could be addressed through legislation he has supported intended to boost transparency in the federal grant-awarding process.

He acknowledged that Congress will have to do more than nibble around the edges to fix long-term issues involving the debt and deficits and that lawmakers can’t push serious discussions off much longer.

“We didn’t have any real serious dialogue on long-term costs with the Obama administration. We’ve had no serious dialogue on long-term costs ... under the Trump administration,” he said. “This is just something that I feel strongly needs to be addressed and we’ve got to talk about.”

The report also included some “Touchdowns” and “Forward Progress” on positive developments, including in some past areas of concern.

Those included recent legislation that extended a pilot program designed to speed up the sale of unused federal properties and a bill Congress passed last year intended to combat online sex trafficking.