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Book Notes: an encyclopeidea of government disservice

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Leland H. Gregory III grins at a press release from Colorado State University. It says the school will conduct a study with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine whether surgically castrated prairie dogs will still protect their turf. "That's too funny," he says. The study's goal--finding a way to control the prairie dog population--may be worthwhile. But Gregory muses, "What I'd like to know is how much it'll cost."

Gregory knows a thing or two about government waste: his new humor book, Great Government Goofs!, presents some 350 examples of misspending, absurd statements, and various foul-ups committed by federal, state, and local officeholders. Soon after moving here two years ago, he spent three months collecting over 2,000 items from the Harold Washington library and from watchdog groups like the Heritage Foundation, EPA Watch, and the National Taxpayers Union.

Gregory says he was taught to respect the government by his father, a head of procurement for the Air Force. "He loved the government and would never say anything bad about it," Gregory recalls. But the military provides one of the easiest targets in Great Government Goofs! During the 80s, Gregory reports, efficiency experts "saved" the Defense Department as much as $136 million annually--but they charged at least $150 million for their services. He says the Pentagon has also admitted to having paid psychics $11 million for information. Even his father's beloved Air Force once spent $100,000 to expose pregnant horses to jet engine noise. "Result?" Gregory asks. "They didn't like it."

Though he calls himself a political independent, Gregory has written and produced TV and radio commercials for Republican office seekers in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee. One of his clients, Tennessee's Bill Frist, was elected to the Senate in 1994. "I'll work for the person who is the best candidate," Gregory says. "None of my candidates are in the book."

God help them if they are: the book is peppered with asinine statements from politicians of both major parties. President Gerald Ford: "Things are more like they are now than they have ever been." Vice President Dan Quayle: "One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is to be prepared." California governor Pat Brown, discussing a local flood: "This is the worst disaster in California since I was elected." And California legislator Barbara Boxer: "Those who survived the San Francisco earthquake said, 'Thank God, I'm still alive.' But of course, those who died, their lives will never be the same again."

In addition to working with politicos, Gregory has been an actor, a screenwriter, a student at the ImprovOlympic, and a coauthor of America's Dumbest Criminals, which climbed to fourth on the New York Times best-seller list last March. Gregory says he sued one of his coauthors after he was passed over for a job on the syndicated TV series based on that book, but Great Government Goofs!, the first of a three-book deal with Dell, represents something of a comeback.

While this first book mostly aims for laughs, Gregory hopes people will take its contents seriously. "People want to know where their money is going. They want to know if urban legends are true. This really happens. It happens all the time and it's our money--a lot of money." --Michael Marsh

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Leland Gregory photo by Nathan Mandell.

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