What is a Boondoggle?

By Sharon Omondi on August 20 2019 in World Facts

The Sydney Opera House was 1400% above the original estimated cost of $7 million, and was at one time considered to be a boondoggle.
The Sydney Opera House was 1400% above the original estimated cost of $7 million, and was at one time considered to be a boondoggle.

A boondoggle is a project that is considered to be a waste of time and money, as the benefits are much less than the money invested. However, even after realizing that the project is bound to fail, it is not discontinued due to political motivations. Boondoggles often occur in projects that require significant amounts of money, labour, and have a very long completion time. Additionally, many boondoggles are government projects, which affect a large number of people and involve taxpayer funds.

Examples of Boondoggles

One example of a boondoggle was the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. This high-cost project went on for many years amidst cost overruns and allegations of corruption. When it was finally opened for public use in 2006, the airport received significant criticism for poor construction. Additionally, these quality issues were concerning given the enormous cost of the project.

A second boondoggle example is the American Dream Meadowlands (ADM) entertainment complex that was initially expected to open in 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. However, 12 years later, the mall is still not open to the public. Due to cost overruns, the construction of the American Dream Meadowlands was halted in 2009, but continued in 2011 after a new developer, Triple Five Group, took over the project.

A third example of a boondoggle is the Lower Churchill Project, which is a hydroelectric project in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Stan Marshall, the CEO of Nalcor Energy, which is the province's energy corporation, referred to the project as a boondoggle due to its cost overruns and schedule delays. According to CBC News, the undoing of the project was that its cost had surpassed the budget by $300 million and there had been a lack of proper oversight.

Successful Boondoggles?

While the definition of the term "boondoggle" relates to failed projects, there are cases in which the benefits of boondoggle projects surpassed the costs in the long-run, causing them to be deemed successful. Examples of projects that were initially labeled boondoggles but are now pillars of their country's economy include the Sydney Opera House and Apollo 11. The Sydney Opera House is an Australian icon that had a total construction cost which was approximately 1400% above the original estimated cost of $7 million. Additionally, completion of the project took 14 years instead of the planned 4 years. Due to the cost overruns and delayed completion, the project was considered a boondoggle, but the building is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that is visited by approximately 10.9 million tourists annually, and its current benefit to the Australian economy is astounding.

NASA's Apollo 11 spaceflight program was dismissed in 1961 by MIT Professor Norbert Wiener as a "moondoggle." Nonetheless, in 1969 Apollo 11 became the first successful space mission to land humans on the Moon. The project cost American taxpayers $28 billion, which translates to nearly $288 billion today. Compared to the current cost of launching a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), which is $133 million, the Apollo 11 program was incredibly expensive. However, it pioneered modern-day space travel and discovery.

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