Published October 23, 2009
As if the life of a college professor weren't easy enough, millions of taxpayer dollars are going to fund monthlong vacations for sightseeing scholars in Europe and South America, part of the $144 million budget provided for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Government watchdogs say those trips are a waste of taxpayer money, and they're not alone on an eye-popping list of NEH funding for projects, including:
"Everybody should be angry ... that federal taxpayer dollars are being used on projects at a time when we have such bigger priorities, like getting the national debt under control," said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union.
"They're being done with tax money we don't have. We are mortgaging our future with projects people may never even see."
The NEH is a lesser-known cousin of the National Endowment for the Arts, a grant-making agency that supports research and education initiatives in the humanities.
Funds from the NEH have helped produce 15 Pulitzer Prize-winning books, and much of the agency's budget goes to finance museums, schools and cultural foundations.
But educators who get favored with NEH grants could also be headed for all-expenses-paid trips to desirable destinations to further their studies, including:
Taxpayer dollars also pay to produce dozens ofmovies and videos, including:
The NEH released a statement stressing the importance of the humanities and defending the selections of the controversial grants. The agency said it received 4,267 applications last year and approved only 786.
"The NEH staff scrutinized each application to ensure that it met strict written criteria," the statement read. "Scholars who received the grants must account for every penny."
The NEH added that its budget accounts for just "six thousandths of one percent of the federal budget," and noted that the council that oversees grants is "currently made up entirely of appointees of President George W. Bush."
But critics say that with people losing their jobs and houses in the struggling economy, Americans shouldn't be taxed to cover non-essential projects.
"Sending academics abroad may be important for the academicians and their careers, but maybe a little bit less so when it comes to the federal budget and the taxpayer dollars," said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union.
"That's really something that the universities themselves should be able to fund through private endowments ... [that] alumni could support instead of taxpayers."
Fox News' William La Jeunesse contributed to this report.