Posts Tagged Government Accountability Office

Obscene Government Waste

sequestration government wasteful spending

Your tax dollars at work

The one thing the “sequester” did was to get people asking why government spending could not be reduced. Adding to the drama of the automatic cuts was the sky-is-falling, government-services-will-stop, and comparable lies the President and his cabinet secretaries told until it became obvious that the public was not buying it.

What the President did not talk about was the incredible, obscene waste of taxpayer’s money that goes on every day in every department and agency of the U.S. government. Americans are so accustomed to hearing everything described in the billions and trillions, they have lost sight of what these numbers really mean and this is particularly true in light of the nation’s huge, growing debt and deficit.

It’s not like independent organizations like Citizens Against Government Waste don’t keep watch and report the waste. It has gained some fame for its annual “Pig Book”, a list of absurd spending. To its credit, the Government Accountability Office occasionally issues a report on waste when some member of Congress requests it.

Even a casual bit of research turns up item after item that, were Americans not so apathetic and indifferent to government waste, it would result in huge rallies in Washington, D.C. calling for change. There is none.

Here are some examples, a mere handful from the many anyone can discover by simply Googling “government waste.”

  • The government spends $1.7 billion for maintenance on empty buildings it owns, although some sources put the figure at closer to $25 billion. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that 55,000 properties are underutilized or entirely vacant.
  • The federal government owns approximately one-third of all U.S. land. It does not need more land and it could be argued that it should not own 80% of Nevada and Alaska, and more than half of Idaho. That said, it wants to spend $2.3 billion to purchase more land and the National park Service currently has a backlog of maintenance tasks totaling $5 billion. These include parks that the Obama administration was saying would all have to be closed down because of a sequester reduction of a mere 1.2% of all federal spending.
  • Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano was issuing statements about the sequestration cuts to her department, but according to Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, the department has $9 billion in unspent preparedness funds. How much of that will be spent on purchasing more DHS ammunition? They have already purchased enough to shoot every American five times.
  • Republican lawmakers in Congress took the sequester fear-mongering as an opportunity to note, as Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) said, “There are pots of money sitting in different departments across the federal government, that have been authorized over either a number of months or years.”
  • Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is a leading budget hawk who identified programs to fund a space ship to another solar system, funds for advancements in beef jerky from France, and $6 billion for research to find out what lessons about democracy and decision-making can be learned—from fish!
  • While you’re trying to figure out how to pay your 2012 taxes, give a thought to the National Science Foundation $350,000 grant to Perdue University researchers on how to improve your golf game.
  • Not to be outspent, the National Institutes of Health gave a $940,000 grant to researchers who found that the production of pheromones in—wait for it—fruit flies, declines over time. Turns out that male fruit flies were more attracted to younger female fruit flies. The NIH also paid researchers to find out why gay men in Argentina engage in risky sexual behavior when they’re drunk and spent $800,000 in “stimulus funds” to study the impact of a “genital-washing” program on men in South Africa. You can’t make up this stuff.
  • For reasons that defy sanity, various elements of the government have spent $3 million for research on video games; $2.6 million to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly; a whopping $500 million on a program that would, among other things, try to figure out why five-year-olds “can’t sit still” in a kindergarten classroom; and grants such as $1.8 million on a “museum of neon signs” in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Sanity does not apply to the $2 billion given annually to U.S. farmers to not farm their land. Don’t even ask about the Defense Department. It has long been famous for waste.

While all this has been going on, in 2010 the Office of Management and Budget determined that $47.9 billion was spent on fraudulent or improper payments in Medicare and the problem still hasn’t been fixed, though the cost is now up to $62 billion. There’s been $2.7 billion in fraud and mismanagement of the food-stamp program. And on, and on, and on.

And the President of the United States can only talk about tax breaks for the “rich and well-connected” while spending most of his time hanging out with the “rich and well-connected.” The rest of the time is spent campaigning to get higher taxes on all the rest of us.

If you just added up the billions cited in this brief look at waste, the federal government might actually be able to get by without having run up the national debt to more than $16 trillion and running trillion-plus annual deficits.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Alan has a daily blog called Warning Signs.

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Watchdog questions how key Homeland Security purchases have exploded by $32.5 billion a year under Obama

BY Phillip Swarts

While President Obama recently proclaimed that al-Qaida’s ability to attack on U.S. soil has been greatly diminished, his Homeland Security Department has gone on a shopping binge that has added more than $32.5 billion in annual spending since George W. Bush left office.

The Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, reports that spending in the 16 largest Homeland Security programs grew a whopping 166 percent between 2008 and 2011. And 2012 was budgeted to grow even more, though final figures won’t be available until after fiscal year ends later this month, the auditors said.

In a report this week, GAO blamed poor coordination for the rapid growth of spending and warned the situation left Homeland in a potentially difficult position with upcoming automatic budget cuts due to take effect from last year’s debt deal between Congress and the White House.

“Given the fiscal challenges facing the federal government, funding shortfalls may become an increasingly common challenge at DHS, leading to further cost growth that widens the gap between resource requirements and available funding,” the GAO said.

For creating an environment that has allowed spending to explode while threats have diminished, the Homeland Security Department wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to an extreme example of government waste, fraud, abuse or unnecessary spending. 

The agency responded to the GAO’s rebuke by saying it is already fixing the problems and expects the situation to get better soon .”The Department’s program performance data are more accurate, complete, and transparent, and leadership has greater awareness of potential program risks,” said Jim Crumpacker, the department’s laison to the GAO.

But GAO isn’t convinced, questioniong whether the agency really has the tools to oversee costs. 

“Most major programs lack reliable cost estimates, realistic schedules, and agreed-upon baseline objectives, limiting DHS leadership’s ability to effectively manage those programs and provide information to Congress,” the report said.

The 16 programs studied by GAO had the largest growth under Obama and accounted for the majority of Homeland’s annual budget. Total spending for those programs rose from $19.7 billion in 2008, Bush’s last year in office, to $52.2 billion in 2011, the GAO said. The department’s entire budget for 2012 is about $60 billion.

Even Homeland’s own managers have doubts about the state of spending, GAO found. “Sixty-one survey respondents reported that their programs have experienced funding instability, and we found that 44 of the 61 programs had also realized cost growth, schedule slips, or capability reductions,” the auditors said.

Homeland has faced other recent criticisms, including an earlier report that government agencies still can’t agree on a way to tell when a building has been decontaminated from anthrax more than a decade after the biological weapon was used in attack on Congress and some media outlets.

The rapid rise in spending also contrasts with the Obama’s administration claims that the homeland threat from al-Qaida has diminished.

“We took the fight to al Qaeda, decimated their leadership, and put them on a path to defeat.  And thanks to the courage and skill of our intelligence personnel and armed forces, Osama bin Laden will never threaten America again,” the president said earlier this month on the 11th anniverary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “Instead of pulling back from the world, we’ve strengthened our alliances while improving our security here at home.”

The president’s counterterrorism adviser gave a similar assessment in a speech in April.  “When we assess that al-Qaida of 2012, I think it is fair to say that, as a result of our efforts, the United States is more secure and the American people are safer,” John Brennan said.

The GAO recommended the department implement more oversight to better evaluate whether certain purchases are needed to meet security goals.  DHS agreed with the recommendations, and is already starting to reevaluate some of its costs and spending levels, investigators said.

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