They’re Pissing Our Money Away

The General Accounting Office has a 345-page report out today on government waste and duplication.

It suggests that just by consolidating the scads of federal government agencies which do the same things, some $200 BILLION can be saved.

$200 BILLION. And that’s without even having a debate on the fundamental size and scope of the federal government. This is $200 billion just wasted on deadhead bureaucracy. This is the low-hanging fruit, and it relatively represents the size of the entire economies of Egypt, Nigeria, Ireland or Israel – just in identifiable waste.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who wrote the legislation dictating the study producing this report, provided an overview of that

“This report confirms what most Americans assume about their government. We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing. The executive branch doesn’t know. The congressional branch doesn’t know.

“This report also shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services.”

Some highlights noted by the Washington Post, which has a quote from Coburn to the effect that “This report will make us look like jackasses”…

  • A 2006 Defense Department study recommended a unified medical command, but nothing came of it. The idea could have saved taxpayers between $281 million and $460 million, the GAO said. Consolidating the Pentagon’s contract acquisition offices, military intelligence operations and efforts to track improvised explosive devices could save tens of billions more, it said.
  • Much of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program has relied on the distribution of federal highway construction dollars, but the government’s approach to the issue remains mired in the 1950s, auditors said. Federal transportation issues now involve more than 6,000 workers at five agencies within the Transportation Department, running about 100 separate funding streams for highways, transit systems, rail and transportation safety, the report said. The overlap costs an estimated $58 billion annually.
  • Through the years, several GAO reports have explored the issue of government redundancy, most recently reporting last month that nine federal agencies spend $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs. All but three of the programs overlap with others.

Fox News’ report on the release has a few other noteworthy morsels in it…

Even more scathing is the duplication investigators found in the nation’s biodefense efforts, with the report essentially saying that the billions of dollars spent annually is the responsibility of no one individual and that there is no plan for post-attack coordination, this on the heels of a 2010 federal commission finding that gave the U.S. a “failing grade” in its prevention measures.

“There are now more than two dozen presidentially appointed individuals with some responsibility for biodefense. In addition, numerous federal agencies, encompassing much of the federal government, have some mission responsibilities for supporting biodefense activities. However, there is no individual or entity with responsibility, authority, and accountability for overseeing the entire biodefense enterprise,” the report finds.

“There is no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response,” the report goes on. “Neither the Office of Management and Budget nor the federal agencies account for biodefense spending across the entire federal government.” As a result, the federal government does not know how much is being spent on this critical national security priority.”

And another…

An analysis of 18 different programs across three federal agencies that deal with domestic food assistance found that though multiple programs can ensure the needy have access to food, “administrative costs increase significantly,” with GAO estimating a $62.5 billion expense to the government from overlap and duplication. Better coordination of hazardous material assessments between TSA and the Department of Transportation could save the government more than $1 million.

And one more…

“Congress is often to blame,” the report reads in bold type for emphasis, as the report details $2.9 billion in overlap in 20 homeless programs spread throughout seven different agencies. “Fragmentation and overlap in some of these programs may be due in part to their legislative creation as separate programs under the jurisdiction of several agencies,” the report finds.

And this is a preliminary report.

Coburn says he’s authoring legislation to require each government department to come up with a list of every agency within its umbrella. The Department of Education is the only one which currently does that.

It’s been said there’s no line item in the budget for waste, fraud and abuse, and it’s a valid point to make in spirit. But that theory simply has never been tested – because nobody has looked for such line items.

Several Republicans in the House, most notably Eric Cantor and, here in Baton Rouge, Rep. Bill Cassidy, took some heat for voting against a  five percent across-the-board cut two weeks ago. Those guys, for all the hell they were subjected to by the Tea Party people and others, were right.

This problem won’t be solved by a lazy across-the-board cut. For instance, if Cassidy gives President Obama a mandate that the Department of the Interior is getting cut, which program do you think is bearing the brunt of that? Will it be coastal restoration, which Republicans and Democrats alike in Louisiana believe needs and deserves federal attention? Or will it be funding for BOEMRE to vet permit applications for offshore drilling? Because it certainly won’t be the president’s environmental protection or green-energy initiatives.

No, the way to cut the budget is to tread into the weeds and hack away at programs like the ones the GAO can’t find a productive use for. It’s careless and shitty oversight of the federal government by presidents, senators and congressmen of both parties who have for decades and decades done an abysmal job of stewardship of our money. All of them, as Coburn says, look like jackasses today.

Any business which has that level of waste or duplication would face a quick, bloody execution by the marketplace. This is why the private sector is superior to the public sector in virtually every way. That might be an ideological statement, but it’s unquestionably true. Big companies which become bureaucratic and wasteful are soon awash in red ink, unable to respond to changing market conditions and invariably gobbled up by competitors – who immediately reorganize their operations and dump huge chunks of them overboard.

It is long past time for that to be done by the federal government. But just watch – every single element of waste found in the GAO report will become an inviolable, untouchable sacred cow as soon as some useless bureau in some powerful congressman’s district goes on the chopping block. Regardless of how indefensible these programs might be, they’ll find defenders.

What we need is a sizable group of veteran politicians on Capitol Hill who take ownership of the fact that they haven’t done their damn jobs the entire time they’ve been in Washington and allowed this scandalous amount of waste to go on. Those politicians need to announce that they’re leaving, won’t run when they come back up for reelection, and the only agenda they have left is to implement every one of the recommendations in the GAO report and more. Those guys need to be both Democrats and Republicans, and they should be able to agree on these kinds of cuts because they’re not ideological.

They say you can’t balance the budget without tackling entitlements. Maybe that’s true; certainly it is. But when you allow this kind of easy stuff to persist because you’re not even curious enough about the money you’re spending to at least make sure it’s not being wasted, it’s dereliction of duty. And it’s as or more damaging to this country as if you’d sold national-security secrets to the Chinese.

The American people are owed an apology for this. It’s inexcusable. And it’s probably a lot worse than GAO uncovers in this report.

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