Government Spends Tax Dollars on Studies to Train Pigs, Dolphins to Play Video Games: Joni Ernst

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.
March 13, 2023Updated: March 16, 2023

Federal officials at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) approved three separate grants to fund experiments seeking to determine whether pigs and dolphins can be trained to play video games, according to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

“Call it SwineCraft. Pigs were trained to play video games—with your tax dollars. More money was sunk into creating a giant underwater touchscreen that can be used to play games like Whack-a-Mole—for dolphins! When it comes to spending in Washington, it’s all fun and games,” Ernst said in a statement made available on March 13 to The Epoch Times.

A spokesperson for NSF didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment, but the abstract for the dolphin-focused project reads, “The cognitive and communication prowess of the large-brained, highly gregarious bottlenose dolphin is legendary and has captured the interest and imagination of scientists and the public at large.”

Vocal Learning and Communication

According to the abstract, “Notably, dolphins are one of a handful of species that are vocal learners; thus the dolphin presents us with a unique and alternative model to songbirds to advance our understanding of the processes that underlie vocal learning and communication in a large-brained mammal showing high social and behavioral complexity.”

Two separate grants are involved in the dolphin project, with one for $447,592 to Rockefeller University and the other to City University of New York for $352,403. Both grants are eligible for additional funding by the government.

The total amount of tax dollars provided for the pig study couldn’t be determined, as a spokesman for the USDA didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment and additional information.

Training pigs and dolphins to play video games, however, isn’t the only way Washington bureaucrats and politicians are making jokes at taxpayers’ expense, according to the Iowa lawmaker.

“Wasting your money is literally a joke to the Senate Majority Leader, [Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer], who just announced another $400,000 will be spent on a comedy center in his home state of New York. They’re laughing all the way to the bank—at taxpayers’ expense,” Ernst told The Epoch Times.

“There’s nothing funny about it, especially when you consider the government is more than $31 trillion in debt and the Senate is doing absolutely nothing to trim Washington’s out-of-control spending, which is infested with waste,” she said in a statement.

“Like the millions of dollars being spent by multiple agencies to cook up crickets and other creepy critters into edible insect entrees for human consumption. Bug appétit!

No Clue Where Taxpayers Dollars Go

Ernst said: “Unexplainable expenditures like these really bug taxpayers, yet they keep popping up because no one really knows where the trillions of dollars being doled out every year by Washington are actually going. And that is entirely intentional.”

A law passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama more than “a decade ago requiring that taxpayers be given a list of every single government program with the cost of each has still not been completed,” she said.

Likewise, a law passed in 1989 known as the “Stevens Amendment, after then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), requires that “projects paid for with your tax dollars include a public price tag disclosing the cost,” Ernst said. But that law isn’t being enforced, either.

Not only is the Stevens Amendment not being enforced, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), but the congressional investigative agency also remarked in its report that “most of the subagencies and operating divisions monitoring compliance did not gather information from grantees about how the grantees calculate the dollar amounts and percentages in their Stevens Amendment funding disclosures.

“For example, DOL’s ETA [Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration] officials said that they do not know how the dollar amounts reported by grantees were calculated and have not inquired about the level of detail factored into indirect costs involving the grantee organization’s structure and the percentage of funds spent on salaries.”

Behind Schedule and Not Completed

“Similarly, officials from HHS’s [Department of Health and Human Services] National Institutes of Health operating division noted that calculations can be difficult given that a research program can have multiple funding streams that feed into a grant project and grantees’ research portfolios are now more complex than they have been in the past,” Ernst said.

Ernst further pointed out that a 2021 law she authored “requiring every infrastructure project that is behind schedule or $1 billion over budget be publicly disclosed is—you probably guessed it—behind schedule and still not completed.”

She said that, as a result of the wasteful grants described in her statement, she is giving her March 2023 Squeal Award “to President Biden for keeping taxpayers in the dark about how he is spending your money.”

Ernst said that because March 13–17 is Sunshine Week, commemorating transparency in government, she is “introducing legislation to shine more light on Washington’s spending decisions.”

“My Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act will require all projects paid for with your tax dollars to display the costs,” she said.

“To make sure that happens, projects would be regularly reviewed and taxpayers themselves would be provided a process to squeal on those who may still be trying to play hide-and-seek with how they are spending your money.”