Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stupid Spending: Government Waste In Action

Now that spending hawk Paul Ryan is in the national consciousness on a full-time basis, I thought it was a good time to take a look at U.S. Senator Tom Coburn's 2011 Wastebook: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending of 2011.  This report outlines $6.9 billion worth of spending that was completely unnecessary.  While $6.9 billion out of total spending of $3.6 trillion in 2011 seems insignificant, it is evidence of the mismanagement that takes place when an organization gets so overwhelmingly labyrinthine that it can no longer control or track its own spending.

Here are a few of the more interesting examples of the creativity involved in wastefully spending your hard-earned and painfully remitted tax dollars:

1.) The Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF):  This year, both political parties will receive a total of $35.38 million from taxpayers to pay a significant portion of convention costs.  There are minimal restrictions on how PECF funds are spent; they must be used to defray expenses incurred with respect to a presidential nominating convention".  So, when you're glued to the television later this month and again in early September, watching the Democrats and Republicans release balloons, wave placards and flags and throw confetti, "you did that!".  Just in case you forgot, in 1994, Congress increased the amount that you can voluntarily donate to this worthy cause from $1 to $3.  In 1980, 28.7 percent of taxpayers checked off the magic donation box on their tax returns; this dropped to only 6.6 percent in 2010.  Unfortunately for the party-goers, if you don't donate, they don't get balloons and confetti.

2.) The Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere": A 2.7 mile long bridge that would connect Anchorage to a small Alaskan community will cost between $650 and $700 million.  This year alone, $15.3 million of federal funding was spent on the Knik Arm Crossing Bridge and, in total, taxpayers have ponied up more than $65 million including $57,390 for a 14 minute long promotional video.  Here's an animation showing you where your money was spent:

3.) Paying the Dearly Departed:  Every year for the past five years, the folks at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have sent an average of $120 million in retirement and disability payments to deceased former (I assume) federal employees.   Over the past five years, over $601 million of your tax remittances have gone to pay those who are no longer with us.

4.) Preserving Your Junk Toys:  The International Centre for the History of Electronic Games located in Rochester, N.Y. received over $113,000 in federal funding to preserve video games.  The center has over 37,000 items, arguably the most comprehensive public assemblage of electronic games in the United States.  Admission is $13 for adults but children under two years of age get in free!  The second largest collection of outdated electronic games just happens to be located in my basement.  Admission is free.  If you wish to help the Center out in addition to your tax donation, they will accept donations of used equipment or money.

5.) Remaking a Television Classic: In fiscal year 2011, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $10 million to Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, a Pakistani arts organization, to create "130 episodes of an indigenously produced Sesame Street".  The show will be renamed "SimSim Humara" and is set in a village in Pakistan.  In case you care, here is a promotional video for the show:

You're welcome.

6.) Home Energy Efficiency Tax Credits Gone Awry:  Based on a sampling of tax returns, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates that nearly 30 percent of American taxpayers who claimed tax credits for increasing the energy efficiency of their homes had no record of actually owning a home.  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates that as much as $1 billion or more was claimed fraudulently, including claims made by children under the age of 18 (and as young as three) and hundreds of rather clever inmates who were incarcerated at the time.  It's nice to see that people are still creative, isn't it?

While it's great that Mr. Ryan wants to cut spending and achieve some sort of fiscal balance, the system does not appear to lend itself willingly to controls.  It's not just over-spending that's the problem, it's stupid spending that's a significant issue.  Senator Tom Colborn's report contains one hundred examples of the finest in ill-advised spending by the federal government, just the tip of the waste iceberg.  Administrations have made repeated and fruitless efforts to control this issue by passing legislation that will curb waste, unfortunately, it seems that when you are not spending your own money, it flows uncontrollably like water between your fingers.

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