5 Most Egregious Examples of Government Waste

money_drain_articleEvery year the federal government loses tens of billions of dollars to waste, fraud and abuse. Unfortunately, 2014 was no exception.

Federal auditors issued plenty of scathing reports this year flagging programs and projects that were inefficient or wasteful. They also identified numerous costly instances of wrongdoing by federal employees.

Drawing on much of our reporting throughout the year, The Fiscal Times identified five of the most egregious examples of government waste in 2014.

Afghanistan Reconstruction: It’s basically been standard operating procedure for John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), to warn Congress about the failing $104 billion reconstruction effort in that country. Numerous projects have gone well over budget and been left unfinished, while millions of dollars have vanished and likely ended up in the wrong hands. In 2010, auditors said they could only account for about 10 percent of the total money spent repairing the war-torn country. Read more about the vast amounts squandered in Afghanistan here.

Entitlement Programs: Government agencies in charge of major federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have doled out about $100 million in improper payments each year for the last five years. The payments include everything from outright fraud to errors made by the agencies or errors made by people claiming the payments. Between 2002 and 2012, federal agencies gave out about $688 billion to the wrong people.

Agencies are required to estimate the payment error rate of their programs. For example, Medicare’s Fee for Service program had an error rate of 10.1 percent in 2013 – about $33.2 billion of the program’s total payments were improper. Read more about it here.

Rewarded for Bad Behavior: The Government Accountability Office revealed this year that the federal government paid $3.1 billion to federal workers on administrative leave over the last three years. Of this amount, $775 million went to 57,000 employees who were off work for a month or longer.

Though not all of this money can be considered waste, lawmakers have questioned federal agencies’ use of administrative leave – especially when the departments place those employees accused of wrongdoing on leave for extended periods of time while they collect government salaries. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had referred to these instances as “taxpayer-funded vacations.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said in an interview earlier this year, “Instead of firing misbehaving employees, Washington rewards those who have broken the law or engaged in misconduct by paying them to do nothing – sometimes for many years.”

In one example, Veterans Affairs executives at a Phoenix, Virginia health care center – caught covering up hidden wait lists – were put on administrative leave in May and continue to receive their annual government salaries of $85,000. Read more here.

I.T. Failures Cost Taxpayers a Fortune:  The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new case filing system, “Sentinel,” is just the latest chapter in federal IT flops. The system, ridden with problems, has spiraled $100 million over budget – and it still barely works. Auditors say the system, which is supposed to make it easier to search case files, is so flawed it actually makes the process more time consuming and difficult. Read more here.

FEMA Fumbles Funding and Fails: FEMA spent $240 million building a high-tech system to help deliver supplies and coordinate the multi-agency response to national disasters. But a review by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found the Logistics Supply Chain Management System so riddled with errors that it can’t “interface” with other agencies – making it nearly impossible to locate and deliver emergency supplies.

The IG also said that even if the system worked, agency employees have not been trained properly to use it. Overall, auditors concluded, “Despite spending about $247 million over nine years, FEMA cannot be certain its supply chain management system will be effective during a catastrophic disaster.”

This is a huge problem: FEMA is notorious for botching its delivery of disaster relief. Just ask Hurricane Sandy victims. Read more here.

This article by Brianna Ehley first appeared in The Fiscal Times.

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Improper Payments add to Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Cutting waste, fraud and abuse is a favorite mantra for Washington politicians. It seems that when politicians want to get a crowd riled up they always mention this phrase.

But the dirty little secret is that Washington politicians simply don’t have the political will to cut government waste, fraud and abuse. They talk a good game but can’t follow through.

Waste, fraud and abuse according the Mercatus Center is about $100 billion a year. It’s not exactly chump change in a $4 trillion budget but still it’s substantial.

One way to look at the problem is to look at what the government calls ‘improper payments. Looking at the ‘improper payments for various government programs is a good way to identify which programs do and don’t work well.

Medicare is considered by many to be the biggest offender in total dollars but the waste only amounts to 10.1%. By all accounts the biggest offender by percentage is the Earned Income Tax Credit with a waste factor of 24%.

The second largest program is surprisingly the National School Lunch Program, which is a small program but boasts a 15% improper payment rate.

Medicaid comes off pretty well here, as does SNAP (commonly called food stamps). There are two takeaways: either the programs need more oversight and reform to work better, or programs like these can’t work with such high improper payment rates and need to be replaced with programs that do.

The full write-up, from Mercatus, is here.

 

 

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12 Days of Waste-mas

All photos: Thinkstock

Here are 12 examples of government waste we’ve selected in the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas:

1. NASA spent $237,205 to study how rainfall affects the red crab’s annual migration to Christmas Island. Merry Crab Christmas!

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2. Medicare Part B paid $132.9 million for the same medical supplies for cancer treatment that Medicare Part D paid $22 million to receive. How generous to pay six times for the same supplies!

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3. The United States Postal Service lost or cannot confirm receiving 37 trailers from a leasing company. The United States Postal Service eventually purchased the titles of the missing trailers, which cost the postal service$287,000 for trailers that remain missing. Did anybody check in the garage?

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4. The Defense Department overpaid by $3.3 million for radios for the Afghan army because the Defense Department failed to follow contracting procedures. Roger that.

Military radio control room (1)

5. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency paid an informant working for Amtrak$854,460 over 20 years to disclose passengers’ names. However, the DEA could have received this information for free since the Amtrak Police Department will share this information with other law enforcement agencies.

Union Station, Los Angeles, California, May 2, 2010

6. The National Institutes of Health spent $484,000 to study whether hypnosis can reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal woman and breast cancer survivors. A self-help book entitled “Relief from Hot Flashes” describes a session as “You go to a place in your mind that’s going to cool you off. It’s almost like your body is cooling itself off.”

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7. Federal agencies paid nearly $50 million to the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service for information that is mostly available free online. Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla.,  introduced the Let Me Google That For you Act to terminate NTIS.

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8. Paralegals at the Patient Trial and Appeal Board were paid $5.1 million over four years as they watched Netflix, shopped online and used social media while on the clock.

Netflix Reports Third Quarter Earnings

9. The Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program provided $400,000to the liquor lobby, which used part of those funds to transport foreign journalists to different breweries and distilleries in the southeastern United States. Cheers to that!

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10. The Department of Agriculture granted $500,000 to provide start-up materials for butterfly farming to Native Americans in Oklahoma, which included butterfly eggs and vehicles to transport them.

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11. The National Institutes of Health has granted more than $10 million towards the creation of “Escape from Diab,” which is a video game about five children who must get healthy enough to escape from a town full of obese people and their evil king.

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12. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency used government credit cards to purchase $79,300 worth of “prohibited, improper and erroneous” goods and services. Included in the purchases were gym memberships for EPA employees and their family members, DVDs and academic memberships.

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It is examples like these that show there is plenty of fat in the budget that needs to be trimmed, and Congress has a responsibility to trim it. Federal Spending by the Numbers 2014 includes 51 examples of government waste from which these 12 were selected. The report also reveals key budget trends in charts, tables and key points.

The best gift Congress could give Americans this Christmas season is to address wasteful spending with the right reforms in Congress’ 2015 budget. Uncle Sam’s handouts are not produced by elves at the North Pole but paid for with money taken from hardworking American families.

For more examples of government waste and to learn more about the federal budget, see Heritage’s 2014 edition of Federal Spending by the Numbers.

All photos courtesy of Thinkstock.

This post by Romina Boccia originally appeared in the Daily Signal.

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Why It’s So Hard to Fix Medicare Fraud

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services headquarters' offices in Woodlawn, Md.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services headquarters’ offices in Woodlawn, Md. BLOOMBERG NEWS

John and David Mkhitarian found a soft spot in Medicare’s defenses against fraud: Inspectors aren’t required to visit medical providers deemed to present a lower risk of fraud and abuse.

So the cousins used exchange students to create some 70 bogus laboratories, clinics and physician practices, then enrolled the companies in the program with the stolen identities of doctors, prosecutors assert. Medicare paid out $3.3 million over about two years.

Both Mkhitarians pleaded guilty to health-care fraud conspiracy. David was sentenced in September to seven months in prison, and John will be sentenced in February.

Their case illustrates a vulnerability in the nearly $600 billion taxpayer-funded program: Vetting of new providers often is inadequate. An inspection of the Mkhitarians’ companies might have stopped the scheme before it started.

Shortcomings in Medicare’s efforts to stop fraud, abuse and waste have come into focus since April, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that runs the program, made public medical-provider billing records for the first time since 1979. The disclosure followed a legal effort by The Wall Street Journal.

CMS must strike a delicate balance: reducing fraud and abuse as much as possible without restricting access to medical care for the 50 million people who depend on the program. “Preventing fraud, abuse and waste are priorities” and “hold equal importance with creating and maintaining transparent and viable patient-doctor relationships,” CMS said in a written statement.

Fixing some of the system’s most pervasive problems—such as doctors billing for lots of procedures that may not be medically necessary—would require Medicare to change how it pays providers, some former Medicare officials said. That, in turn, would necessitate an act of Congress, they said.

“Unless you change the rules of the game in terms of how Medicare pays, you’ll never fix it,” said Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare in the early 1990s. Congress is “not going to voluntarily make major changes in a program that is as popular as Medicare,” she said.

Two improvements could be made without congressional involvement: tighter screening of medical providers when they enroll in the program, and more rigorous enforcement to kick out bad actors.

CMS said it has implemented stricter measures to vet new enrollees in recent years. And this month, the Obama administration strengthened CMS’s authority to revoke billing privileges of doctors and other providers with a suspicious pattern of billing.

Current and former law-enforcement officials estimate that fraud accounts for as much as 10% of Medicare’s yearly spending, or about $58 billion in fiscal 2013. Federal antifraud efforts clawed back $2.86 billion in Medicare funds that year.

CMS hasn’t publicly set a specific monetary goal for fraud reduction. In government programs, as in business, attempting to eradicate all fraud is considered close to impossible—and perhaps not even cost-effective, given how expensive it can be.

One problem is that CMS doesn’t have the resources to deal with the sheer volume of providers flooding the system. Every month, some 45,000 new providers, from doctors and physical therapists to nursing homes and ambulance operators, apply to enroll in Medicare.

CMS has tightened some screening requirements since 2011, hiring new contractors that specialize in site visits. The agency also has begun looking for bad actors by checking the fingerprints of, among others, providers of home-health care and durable medical equipment like wheelchairs, two categories with a history of fraud.

In some fraud hot spots around the country, CMS has imposed moratoria on the enrollment of new home-health agencies and ambulance operators. And it now requires suppliers of prosthetics and orthotics to submit $50,000 “surety” bonds before they can start billing Medicare.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, is expected in January to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the committee that oversees Medicare.ENLARGE
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, is expected in January to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the committee that oversees Medicare. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The most stringent vetting is limited to provider categories deemed to carry the highest risk of fraud and abuse. Visiting every new provider would be impractical, former Medicare officials say.

“If the cops stop and hassle every single motorist, two things happen: traffic congestion, and you get political blowback,” said Ted Doolittle, a former deputy director of CMS’s antifraud unit.

Yet simple improvements to the screening process would make it easier to spot fake medical providers.

“Even to get a driver’s license, you need to take a driver’s education course and pass a test,” said Ryan Stumphauzer, former head of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in Miami. “Why not perform this type of common-sense screening before handing out Medicare billing privileges? Ask basic questions: Does the applicant have education, training or experience in health care? Are they versed in basic Medicare rules and regulations?”

Some legislators say that once bad providers are in the program, CMS and its contractors aren’t quick enough to kick them out.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, is expected in January to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the committee that oversees Medicare. He said much more needs to be done “to weed out the bad actors.”

Sen. Hatch and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, in September 2011 sent CMS a list of 34 individuals who still had their Medicare-billing privileges despite being convicted of, or pleading guilty to, felonies such as health-care fraud, tax evasion and lewd and lascivious behavior.

CMS responded with a variety of reasons why they might still be enrolled, including that some of the felonies were “not excludable offenses.”

Calling the response unacceptable, the senators criticized the agency for not taking immediate action. And they raised a 35th name: Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician.

Dr. Murray remained “a legitimate Medicare provider,” they noted, even though California had suspended his medical license and a jury had recently convicted him of involuntary manslaughter for providing the pop star with the sedative that caused his death.

Dr. Murray wasn’t excluded from Medicare and Medicaid by the health department’s Office of Inspector General until June 2012, although data show no billing by him that year. He was released from custody last year after serving two years of a four-year sentence. His lawyer, Valerie Wass, said “it’s going to be very difficult for him to get a medical license again in this country because of his conviction.”

A complicating factor is that CMS and the inspector general—two separate agencies within the health department—have separate rules about when they can act against medical providers.

Of the 34 felons on Sens. Hatch and Coburn’s original list, 15 eventually were excluded from Medicare and Medicaid by the inspector general, but some of the exclusions didn’t take effect until two to three years after a conviction or guilty plea. Another 16 are no longer listed as program participants on Medicare’s website. Three remain Medicare providers.

CMS declined to comment on the individuals, citing the federal Privacy Act. A spokesman for the inspector general said the exclusion process takes time because providers have extensive appeal rights. He said the inspector general excluded 4,017 providers in the 2014 fiscal year, up from 3,214 the proceeding year.

When CMS does act to curb questionable billing, recouping the money can be difficult. Providers prevailed at least in part in 62% of the nearly 600,000 Medicare appeals decided by administrative-law judges since 2005, according to a Journal analysis of data published by the health department’s Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals. The government won just 26% of the time, and 12% of cases were dismissed.

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Our Humpty Dumpty Future

Barack Obama as Humpty DumptyHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

This children’s fairy tale is well-known to all Americans. But the future of the United States may be a Humpty Dumpty one.

The nation is $18 trillion in debt and climbing. It seems that any attempt to change the arc of our increasing national debt, usually by the Republicans, is met with by the false Democrat demagoguery accusing Republicans of not caring about the elderly, kids, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, minorities, the environment, etc.

Where the Democrats think that the money will come from is anybody’s guess. Maybe they think that the United States will win an intergalactic lottery or that all of the debt will evaporate tomorrow?

The liberal Democrats who have controlled Congress for most of my adult life have never witnessed some cause that could not be fixed by throwing federal dollars at it, and the more the better.

With a national debt of about $18 trillion our current annual interest payment is $231 billion. The Congressional Budget Office projects that our interest payment will rise to $799 billion a year by 2024. This rate of interest growth is simply unsustainable.

We are headed on the express train to bankruptcy. We’ll make Greece’s bankruptcy seem pale by comparison. A U.S bankruptcy would bring down the entire world economy. There would be violent uprisings around the world with millions of deaths.

Now that may sound like the coming apocalypse and it is. The stewards of our Social Security and Medicare programs project that Social Security will go broke in 2037 and Medicare will do so in 2030.

Attempts to cut the budget have been met with cries from the left that this program or that program is absolutely necessary for the Republic to survive. Our politicians have simply never learned the difference between needs and wants.

We have an $18 trillion national debt, Social Security and Medicare heading toward insolvency, Medicaid costs mushrooming within state budgets, Obamacare is going to cost far more than projected. And absorbing millions of illegal aliens many with minimal job skills will add another huge burden to state budgets.

We have become numb to the waste, fraud and abuse numbers: Medicare fraud is $ 6.7 billion, IRS overpayments amount to $21 billion; unemployment fraud is at $33 billion, and the list goes on.

The Inspector General’s Office found that the IRS sent 2,137 refund checks worth $3.3 million to the same residential address in Michigan and 765 refund checks to the same address in Chicago worth $900,000.

So how can we correct this dire situation? The plain truth is that we can’t. We have a declining birth rate with almost 10,000 seniors leaving the work force a day. That means that tax collections are declining.

Obamacare will not only cost more than was anticipated (what government program doesn’t) but its very rules are damaging the U.S. economy. It is forcing an ever-increasing number of American workers from the full-time work force into part-time jobs.

Then we have illegal aliens being given granted rights and benefits not authorized by Congress. With the increasing strangulation of our economy by government rules and regulations and an educational system that failing our students the United States is on a highway to hell.

The Humpty Dumpty fable may soon be coming true for us unless we make some dramatic changes in our spending and governing habits.

 

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NASA is adrift in space

A-3 test standThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA for short, has been adrift without any definite missions for at least a decade. The agency that met President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon in ten years did it it in less than seven but today they don’t have a new pathway to greatness.

Instead, they can’t decide if they’re a space agency or a jobs agency. They have become a giant pork barrel for Washington’s political class. If you want to look good for the home folks then tuck a massive construction projection into an important bill.

One example is the giant A-3 test stand in Gulfport, Mississippi. In June NASA completed the project to test new engines at a cost to the taxpayers of $349 million. This was nearly three times the original estimate. Construction had lasted nearly seven years, 3 1/2 years longer than expected.

NASA then closed the tower down. They mothballed it because there was new engine to test in it. It had been cancelled in 2010.

Initially, the cautious bureaucrats at NASA thought that the program might be revived. After all, other programs had been brought back from the dead why not this one?

When it appeared that it wouldn’t happen Congress ordered the agency to complete the tower at the urging of Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss) who never met a pork project that he didn’t like.

NASA says that there are no engines under development that could possibly use the test stand. Instead A-3 will join a long list of NASA’s living dead, projects that NASA for one reason or another can not or will not put to sleep.

There are at least six other test stands in this category. Together, they cost NASA more than $100,000 a year to maintain. Added to this is the $700,000 a year that it will cost to maintain A-3.

NASA no longer has an overriding goal. A return to the moon is out. Mars, once a mission, is no longer on NASA’s radar. Today, there more modest goal is to visit an asteroid.

Without a more glamorous mission like visiting Mars or returning to the moon, the NASA bureaucrats only goal is to stay alive. Projects tend to run over time and budget simply because there is no focus.

Meanwhile, the politicians with only one thing in mind see the agency as a means to deliver pork to their home states. Everything else is secondary.

Once, Americans could brag that only Americans had walked on the moon. Today, we need to hitch rides to our own space station. How low have our dreams of space travel fallen?

 

 

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The growing social costs of welfare and entitlement fraud

Feeding at the public troughIncome inequality seems to be all the rage today. But left unsaid is the growing social costs of welfare and entitlement fraud.

According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, 5.2 percent ($98.7 billion) of its social program payments are “improper”, meaning that the payment went to the wrong person, the payment amount was incorrect, there was no documentation justifying a payment, or the beneficiary used the payment on something for which it wasn’t intended.

Despite the huge amount of money involved there is also the social cost involved. This comes in the form of resentment. The ‘givers’ resent the ‘takers’ which in turn forms a type of class-warfare.

Remember the ‘Obamaphone’ program? It was one of the most abused government programs with recipients registering for two and three phones. Some of them weren’t even qualified for one phone. The average American’s response: “I have to work to have a phone! Why do you get one (or three) for free?” 

The food stamp program is another program that is rife with problems. When recipients pay for items that are clearly not life necessities it draws the ire of all those in the queue and makes for easy headlines that paint the entire program in an unflattering light.

The abuses of the food stamp program are myriad, from lobster tails to ATM withdrawals inside strip clubs. Some beneficiaries have also sold their EBT dollars through online forums in exchange for cash.

Then there are the abuses in the healthcare system. As an example there are people who call a $600 ambulance rather than call a cab or walk to the hospital. And the American taxpayers get to foot the bill.

Or the people who use the emergency room as a doctor’s office rather than it being used for its intended purpose, an emergency.

Each new story about abuses by ‘taker’ brings howls of protest and calls for cuts to programs. This is a simplistic solution that doesn’t solve any problems and quite often hurts those in the most need.

In a December 2013 National Journal poll, a 65 percent majority of Americans indicated that they are in favor of legislation to tighten eligibility, increase work requirements, and shorten the time limit for use of federal food stamp benefits.

In support of such changes were 79 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents, and 45 percent of Democrats. In an earlier Huffington Post/YouGov poll, more than half of respondents indicated that they did not believe food stamps should buy “expensive” food items.

Instituting these reforms and others targeted to address abuse, such as requiring photo ID with use of EBT cards (as only a small handful of states do currently) and restricting barcodes of luxury food items at the point of sale, would go a long way to reduce improper payments, close social fault lines, and bring American political discourse down from polemic yelling matches to reasoned dialogue.

Such reforms are simple common sense not because they are low-hanging fruit for deficit reduction, but because they are the right things to do

 

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Tax Extenders: Earmarks by another name

Tax extendersThe Congress has a number of narrow-interest tax breaks that are only authorized for a year or two. They are known as tax extenders and lawmakers use them to give tax breaks to pet products and pet industries. In all there are 55 so-called tax extenders that cost about $81 billion next year.

Some of these tax extenders benefit a large number of taxpayers like the deduction for state and local taxes. But most tax extenders benefit specific industries. Most of these industries benefit because of the lobbyists that they employ to press their cases with members of Congress.

The horse racing industry has a sweet break that allows horse owners to write off up to 50 percent of the cost of their three-year-old horse. This tax extenders costs the American taxpayers about $97 million a year.

NASCAR race track operators benefit with a $15 million a year break for blacktopping their tracks. They can recover the cost in seven years, instead of the standard 39 years for nonresidential property and 15 years for “improvements” (such as grandstands, fences, and roads).

Not only do taxpayers shell out money to see movies but they also shell out money to make movies. Along with tax breaks that states often hand out to Hollywood, certain film, TV and theatrical productions are slated to get federal benefits totaling $424 million.

Purchases of mine safety equipment can be expensed quicker than purchases of safety equipment in other sectors. And folks maintaining railroad tracks, donating excess (expired) food inventory, or blending biodiesel with regular diesel all get special treatment.

If you want an electric bicycle you’re in luck. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) supports a tax extender that bicyclists to get a $2,500 tax break. It should be pointed out the Oregon has two electric bicycle manufacturers.

Another tax extender deals with coal. As the Obama administration and lawmakers call for moving away from using the energy source, there are tax credits for coal mined on American Indian land — two dollars a ton, adding up to $49 million.

Typically, the extenders package is a legislative parasite attaching itself to much bigger, must-pass legislation. In 2008, while lawmakers were scrambling to address dire warnings of economic collapse, the extenders package was slapped onto the bank bailout.

In 2010, they burrowed their way into much bigger legislation extending the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. And then they wound up in the grand bargain to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

About the only thing this Congress deserves credit for is the fact that it’s currently trying to pass the tax extenders as a stand-alone package, with a limited amount of debate.

Last week, the House voted 378 – 46 to “extend” for another year this hodge-podge of “temporary” special interest tax breaks that mostly expired on Dec. 31, 2013. Every indication is that the Senate is likely to adopt it by a similar margin, continuing an ignoble and costly tradition.

 

 

 

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Investigating the Investigators

Danny Kaye as The Inspector GeneralJudicial Watch, a Washington non-governmental, public-interest group that probes and exposes government and political corruption, recently reported that many of the inspector generals in Executive Branch need to be investigated themselves.

“The [supposedly] ‘independent’ watchdogs that are supposed to root out waste, fraud and corruption inside U.S. government agencies often help cover it up,” noted officials from Judicial Watch.

They point to a four-part newspaper exposé that accuses these high-paid inspectors general of sometimes becoming “the lapdogs of the agencies they’re charged with overseeing.”

In the Executive Branch there are 72 inspectors general report to superiors who are appointed by the President. This hardly engenders a sense of the absence of a conflict of interest. According to Judicial Watch in some cases the opposite is the case.

Under this administration, the internal watchdogs “soft-peddle their findings, whitewash reports and bury evidence of wrongdoing, according to congressional investigations and reports by outside groups cited in the news articles.”

While previous administrations have heard complaints about inspectors general being “lapdogs of agency management,” under the Obama administration there are accusations of retaliation by inspectors general against whistleblowers who help to expose corruption and abuse.

According to the Judicial Watch report, within the past two years about six federal agencies have allegedly retaliated against whistleblowers or softening their findings to protect department executives or the White House.

One example was covered by only one major news organization — Fox News Channel. In that story, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Inspector General is accused of downplaying complaints of whistleblowers and removing blame for patient deaths from the Veteran Administration’s healthcare management.

“Even investigators within [the Inspector General’s office] have faced retaliation for reporting internal wrongdoing or attempts to withhold embarrassing findings, according to congressional reports,” the story says.

“With government corruption and waste on the rise, the biggest agencies with the largest budgets ironically have gone years without adequate oversight from inspector generals that are charged with independently investigating them and rooting out fraud,” Judicial Watch noted in a previous report.

 

 

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Congressional Handouts

A bottomless pitCongress enjoys spending our money. They enjoy it so much that in 2015 they will distribute $640.8 billion in federal grants to state and local governments. That figure amounts to almost 16.5% of the entire federal budget.

Much of Congress’ time is spent devising what some would call unconstitutional spending. After all, Congress is supposed to spend taxpayer dollars on core national responsibilities rather than spending that is more properly the business of the states. And they’re just giving us back our own tax money.

But Congress has been aided and abetted in this practice by our courts. They have interpreted the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution’s spending clause allowing Congress to spend on anything.

The actual clause in Article i, Section 8 of the Constitution reads:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

In fact the Supreme Court has interpreted this section to allow the federal government to “induce” states to accept federal preferences about state responsibilities. Hence, we have the federal government mandating speed limits using the threat of loss of highway funds if states don’t agree.

The myth of ‘free money’ is just that a myth. There is no ‘free money’. Everything comes with a price. In the case of federal grants the price is a loss of freedom. Every time a state accepts grants from the federal government it comes with conditions. Do this or follow these rules. If you don’t you’ll lose the money.

Recently, Maine became embroiled in a fight with the USDA over the food stamp program. Maine in an effort to curtail fraud within the program wanted to require a photo ID to collect food stamp vouchers. The USDA threatened to take back the money that they give to Maine. The issue is still simmering.

Many times ‘free money’ doesn’t cover all of the costs of a project. Take the case of the Connecticut busway linking New Britain and Hartford. Washington offer a $455 million inducement for the project if the state came up with $112 million. The two cities were already linked by bus service but the state found the money by diverting it from other crucial needs.

Federal grants are used by the Congress to ‘purchase’ the votes of unsophisticated voters. They see that their representative has provided them with money for this or that project but they don’t understand the cost both in loss of freedom and matching local money.

This practice has grown from a ‘mere’ $24.1 billion in 1970 to its current astronomical figure of $640.8 billion. And unless the states put a stop to it by refusing to take the funds, it will continue indefinitely.

 

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