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Exclusive: Taxpayer Money Spent on Shrimp on Treadmills

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- You've probably heard of shrimp on the barbie, but what about shrimp on a treadmill?

The National Science Foundation has, and it spent $500,000 of taxpayer money researching it.  It's not entirely clear what this research hoped to establish, but it's one of a number of projects cited in a scathing new report from Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, exclusively obtained by ABC News.

It's not just shrimp on a treadmill.  The foundation spent $1.5 million to create a robot that can fold laundry.  But before you try to buy one to save some time, consider that it takes the robot 25 minutes to fold a single towel.

The list goes on.  Lots of people love to use FarmVille on Facebook, but lots of people probably don't love the government's spending $300,000 in taxpayer money to study whether it helps build personal relationships.

"What it says to me is, they have too much money if they're going to spend money on things like that," Coburn said in an interview.

But there's more.  The National Science Foundation has its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, D.C., a building it pays $19 million a year to rent.  But now that the 20-year lease is nearly up, it has decided that it is time to move; into a new building that will cost $26 million annually to rent.

Even gelatin wrestling has been the subject of an agency project -- in Antarctica, no less.  The foundation notes that the project is the work of contractors, not agency employees.

Whatever the case might be, Coburn said, the situation is another example that federal spending has gotten out of control.

"We have 12 different agencies doing pure research, and we're duplicating and we're not sharing the information across and it's siloed," he said.

In response to Coburn's report, the National Science Foundation launched a vigorous defense of its projects.  Agency officials said they "have advanced the frontiers of science and engineering, improved Americans' lives, and provided the foundations for countless new industries and jobs."

And the facts back up that statement.  One agency project helped lead to the creation of Google, while another led to the invention of bar codes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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