Drowning in a regulatory swamp

The regulatory swampOver the last half-decade the United States has been subjected to an ever-increasing swamp of rules, regulations and unfunded mandates. In case you’re not aware this morass has inflicted a huge financial burden on state, local and municipal governments, in addition to ordinary citizens and businesses.

Let’s face it the administrative state is out of control and those in charge really don’t care about the costs involved. They have goals that they wish to achieve and they’re not really concerned about the cost, the inconvenience or the pain that they are inflicting on American businesses and private citizens alike.

Let’s look at some of the particulars that are involved.

According to a Wall Street Journal report on some new numbers released by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The effort needed to comply with federal bureaucracy now has a number. According to new government estimates released this week, Americans spent 8.8 billion hours filling out government forms in fiscal 2010. …In all, the paperwork burden has increased by around 19% over the past decade, up from 7.4 billion hours in fiscal 2000, the White House Office of Management and Budget said.

And there’s plenty of blame to go around as the report details:

Between 2002 and 2005, federal agencies reported significant increases in paperwork demands. Republicans controlled Congress and the White House for almost all that period. In 2005, laws including the Bush administration’s Medicare prescription-drug overhaul, created what is now estimated to be an extra 250 million paperwork hours. At the same time, the biggest single-year jump in the past decade came in 2010, when individuals and businesses spent an extra 352 million hours responding to paperwork requests from agencies prompted by new statutory requirements.

The real cost of all this regulation is measured in lost economic output, jobs not created, and mandated inefficiency. According to the Small Business Administration, that amounts to a whopping $1.75 trillion per year.

But if you just want to measure the cost of the man-hours required, the Administration has an estimate.

The OMB said it hadn’t attempted to put a financial cost on the paperwork requests, but noted in its report that “it is clear that the monetary equivalent would be very high. For example, if each hour is valued at $20, the monetary equivalent would be $176 billion.”

Here’s part of the executive summary of a paper by the Phoenix Center, which estimates that  every regulator means 100 fewer jobs in the productive sector of the economy.

…we use fifty years of data and modern econometric methods to provide an estimate of the relationship between government spending on regulatory activity and economic growth and job recovery. We estimate that reducing the size of the regulatory bureaucracy may grow the economy and invigorate the labor market. Even a small 5% reduction in the regulatory budget (about $2.8 billion) is estimated to result in about $75 billion in expanded private-sector GDP each year, with an increase in employment by 1.2 million jobs annually. On average, eliminating the job of a single regulator grows the American economy by $6.2 million and nearly 100 private sector jobs annually. Conversely, each million dollar increase in the regulatory budget costs the economy 420 private sector jobs.

Here are some excerpts from a report in The Hill.

The Obama administration issued $236 billion worth of new regulations last year… The analysis from the American Action Forum, led by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, found that the administration added $216 billion in rules and more than $20 billion in regulatory proposals in 2012. Complying with those rules will require an additional 87 million hours of paperwork, the report said. The group put the total price tag from regulations during Obama’s first term at more than $518 billion. …The Environmental Protection Agency racked up the most in regulatory costs last year, according to the report, issuing $172 billion worth of rules. Regulations from the healthcare reform law tacked an additional $20.1 billion in costs onto the economy.

Now these are a lot of numbers to absorb but suffice it to say that the ever-increasing regulatory burden is drowning the U.S. economy. It is making us less competitive in world trade and only serves to grow the size of our government.

 

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The Federal Bagpipe Police and other TSA Insanities

BagpipesThe Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a long list of lethal and non-lethal items that passengers are prohibited from bringing on planes. They range from guns to knives to explosives, which all makes sense in light of the terrorist threat today.

But recently humorist and conservative commentator Mark Steyn wrote about two young men’s attempt to cross the New Hampshire-Canadian border with bagpipes.

…17-year-old Campbell Webster and Eryk Bean, of Concord and Londonderry, New Hampshire – understood that if you go to a highland fling a couple of hours north in Quebec you’re now obligated to get your bagpipes approved by US Fish & Wildlife. …So Messrs Webster and Bean got their CITES certificate and presented it to the US CBP agent at the Vermont border crossing. Whereupon he promptly confiscated their bagpipes on the grounds that, yes, their US Fish & Wildlife CITES paperwork was valid, but it’s only valid at 28 ports of entry and this wasn’t one of them. Nor is any other US/Canadian land crossing.

When the CBP agent seized Messrs Webster and Bean’s bagpipes, he told them – with the characteristic insouciance of the thug bureaucracy – that they were “never going to see them again”. But thanks to the unwelcome publicity the Homeland Security mafiosi were forced to cough ‘em up.

The story doesn’t end there because these two pipers are scheduled to compete in a bagpiping contest in Scotland. You won’t believe the steps that they have to go through coming and going from the U.S. to Scotland.

The two pipers are now heading to a competition in Scotland. So they’ll be flying back via Boston, which is one of those 28 valid ports of entry. They’ve called Fish & Wildlife to arrange for the mandatory “inspection” of the bagpipes upon landing at Logan Airport. Unfortunately, the official Fish & Wildlife bagpipes inspector is taking a day off that day…she won’t be available to inspect the pipes. So she’s told them they’ll have to drive back to New Hampshire and then drive back to Logan the following day for the Fish & Wildlife bagpipes inspection. So…the bagpipers will have to take a day off on Thursday – just to comply with the diktats of the Department of Paperwork. … Every time you take a bagpipe in and out of the United States it’s a $476* round-trip fee.

Demanding a CITES certificate for bagpipes is a burden upon free-born citizens. Restricting the paperwork’s validity to only 28 ports of entry is an unduly onerous burden. Requiring the bagpipers to come back on the Wednesday to those 28 ports of entry because the inspector’s washing her hair on the Tuesday is an even more onerous and insulting burden. And charging an American $476 to play his bagpipe in Montreal is a shakedown racket unacceptable in a free society. …America is economically sclerotic because it’s being hyper-regulated to death.

This is the state that modern-day America is in. We are being over-regulated with Kafkaesque rules and fees. Our bureaucrats are no longer servants of the people but we are servants of our government officials. Something needs to change and the change needs to happen soon before we lose all of our liberties forever.

You might like these:

The TSA sends Christmas Greetings: http://wp.me/p1BoZv-f9

Stupid TSA Searches: http://wp.me/p1BoZv-5M

More Stupid TSA Searches: http://wp.me/p1BoZv-5S

 

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Wasting Money on Public Relations

Beltway BanditsThe Federal government spends billions of dollars on public relations, advertising and just plain propaganda. And all of the money comes from the taxpayers. Every department and agency is spending money to ‘get their message out.’

And why do they do it? To keep their jobs by promoting their departments. Here are some examples of how and why your money is being spent by the boatload.

 November 25, 2012 reported that the government spent a whopping $16.3 billion on outside advertising, marketing and public relations contractors from 2002 to 2012.

The computer analysis in the report found that federal agencies awarded more than 190,000 contracts and spent more than $16.3 billion since 2002 on the various efforts, an average of about $1.5 billion annually

The services are used by the government departments to burnish their images and tailor their messages. This is in addition to the millions that government department spend internally on their full-time press, communications and media operations.

It has gone to pay for projects as varied as NASCAR and sports sponsorships, recruitment efforts for the military services, veterans benefits, welfare aid, and programs that help multibillion-dollar multinational corporations pitch their products to overseas customers.

Once upon a time, the government’s main advertising business focused on pitching public service announcements, such as the U.S. Forest Service’s Smokey Bear fire-prevention commercials.

But today it’s a different story. Government departments use outside consultants to create polished, focused messaging in order to separate their messaging from the advertising clutter in today’s media.

Some advertising campaigns defy logic. At a time when there are massive backlogs at the Veterans Administration, the department spent $25 million on a campaign to encourage veterans to take advantage of its mental health services.

The Labor Department spent a half-million dollars on a campaign to advertise the benefits of a clean-energy jobs retraining program, which the Washington Guardian reported in September 2012 significantly missed its goals.

The USDA has spent millions since 2008 on ads designed to encourage more Americans to enroll for food stamps, many in Spanish and targeted at Hispanics, while the government safety-net program already has record expenditures. 

“We really want to represent America’s farmers and ranchers, and those are raw commodities. They demonstrate a full array of the types of food that are produced here in the United States,” explained Matt Herrick, a spokesman at the U.S. Agriculture Department, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help American companies market their agricultural products overseas.

The overall total, however, does not include the amounts spent each year by the various military services on the hundreds of flyovers they stage with aircraft to wow audiences at sporting events. The Pentagon doesn’t know how much is spent on those efforts, because it doesn’t track the costs.

 

The biggest spenders among the agencies were the Pentagon, and the departments of the Treasury and of Health and Human Services. The spending on the ads, marketing and image-making appears to have peaked under President George W. Bush in 2008 at nearly $2 billion, and has fallen under President Obama to $1.3 billion in 2011, the last year with full spending records available.

Different federal agency campaigns often offer conflicting messages. For instance, the Health and Human Services Department was spending millions crafting and placing ads encouraging Americans to eat healthier and be more fit, while the U.S. Agriculture Department was spending tens of millions pitching wines, popcorn, hard liquor and chocolates to foreign markets.

The USDA spends $173 million per year on their Market Access Program. The original idea was to help American businesses by facilitating international sales. Instead, this program has turned into something else.

The USDA and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States recently hosted a five-day liquor lobby tour for journalists. The USDA supplied the liquor lobby with a $400,000 subsidy to shuttle international journalists to distilleries in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Then we have the government promotion of the mohair industry in the United States. Then, of course, the U.S. government’s promotion of the all-important walnut industry.

“Despite the billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, little, if any, data exist to show how the program has had any significant impact on American agriculture’s total share of global exports,” Sen. Tom Coburn declared in a recent report. “The time has come to debate whether the federal government should be in the business of promoting private market goods to foreign buyers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some things to think about on Labor Day

Here’s post that I wrote in February of 2013. On this labor Day of 2014 it bears repeating.

Did you catch the story about the owner of Titan International, Morry “The Grizz” Taylor asking Arnaud Montebourg, the French Minister of Productive Renewal, “Do you think that we are that stupid?” 

The question was a reply to Montebourg insistence that negotiations between Titan and the French government resume after Taylor pointed out the shortcomings of France’s unionized workers.

Taylor painted an unflattering portrait of French workers as lazy, overpaid and coddled by their Socialist government. Taylor averred that French employees only worked three hours a day. “They have an hour for their breaks  and their lunches, chat for three hours and work for three hours,” said Taylor in a letter that was made available to the French media.

European unions share a similar penchant for running companies into the ground with their American counterparts. Hostess Brands, the maker of the iconic “Twinkies” cake is in the process of liquidating the company that will cost the jobs of 18,500 workers because of union intransigence.

Hostess, despite its excellent sales volume, was put out of business because the Bakers Union would not change its restrictive rules. In January 2012, the company filed for Twinkies PackageChapter 11 Bankruptcy. In a statement in its filing, the company said it “is not competitive, primarily due to legacy pension and medical benefit obligations and restrictive work rules.”

One worker’s comment says it all, after the company stopped paying into the pension plan,  “We understand that, should we pursue some form of legal action to require the company to live up to the terms of the contract, they may close, but we have come to believe that they will close anyway. We believe the company is poorly managed and the only hope is a complete change in management.”

After two-thirds of the union employees agreed to wage and work rule concessions, The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM), which represents 6,600 Hostess employees, took strike action after the contract proposal from Hostess Brands was rejected by 92 percent of its members.

Hostess almost immediately announced the closing of their plants and the dismissal of their 18,500 employees. The company began taking bids on the sale of their product lines.

It was announced on January 28, 2013 that the United States Bakery was the leading bidder for the Sweetheart, Eddy’s, Standish Farms and Grandma Emilie’s brands, while McKee Foods are the leading bidder for Hostess’s Drake’s brand, including Ring DingsYodelsDevil Dogs.

(Of the eleven bakeries operated by Old HB, Hostess Brands retained four, in Columbus, GeorgiaEmporia, KansasIndianapolis and Schiller Park, Illinois. The Schiller Park facility is scheduled to close in October 2014.)

GM workers protestingThe General Motors Bankruptcy is a classic example of a union using its political connections to turn the law on its head. When GM announced that they would go bankrupt if they didn’t get a federal bailout, the Obama administration went into action.

Rather than allowing the bankruptcy to proceed in a normal manner, the administration stepped in and manipulated the proceedings to give the unions preferential treatment at the expense of the bondholders, many of who were retired GM employees.

While the United Auto Workers union and the U.S. Government received the lion’s share of the stock in the “New” GM, the bondholders lost almost their entire investment. Now GM is back in court with a federal judge in New York ruling soon on a case that could reverse the entire agreement and send the company back into bankruptcy.

(A bankruptcy judge’s decision that a General Motors Co. (GM) customer failed to state a valid claim against the estate of so-called Old GM was upheld by a federal judge in Manhattan.)

 

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Common Healthcare Fraud

Healthcare fraudBy the end of 2014 healthcare spending will reach an incredible $4 trillion. Despite all of the safeguards on both public and private spending billions are lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

In the public sector between $60 and $80 billion is lost to waste, fraud and abuse. The FBI estimates the actual fraud at the high-end of the scale. The Government Accountability Office estimate that up to 10% of the entire Medicare budget is lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

Here are the most common forms of waste, fraud and abuse that we experience today.

Billing for services not rendered or “phantom’ billing

Often done as a way of billing Medicare for things that never happened. This can involve forging the signature of those enrolled in Medicare, and the use of bribes or “kickbacks” to corrupt medical professionals.

Upcoding of services

Billing Medicare programs for services that are more costly than the actual procedure that was done.

Upcoding of Items

Similar to upcoding of services, but involving the use of medical equipment. An example is billing Medicare for a power-assisted wheelchair while only giving the patient a manual wheelchair.

Duplicate Claims

In this case a provider does not submit exactly the same bill, but changes some small portion like the date in order to charge Medicare twice for the same service rendered. Rather than a single claim being filed twice, the same service is billed two times in an attempt to be paid twice.

Unbundling

Bills for a particular service are submitted in piecemeal, that appear to be staggered out over time. These services would normally cost less when bundled together, but by manipulating the claim, a higher charge is billed to Medicare resulting in a higher pay out to the party committing the fraud.

Excessive Services

Occurs when Medicare is billed for something greater than what the level of actual care requires. This can include medical related equipment as well as services.

Unnecessary Services

Unlike excessive services, this fraudulent scheme occurs when claims are filed for care that in no way applies to the condition of a patient, such as an echo cardiogram billed for a patient with a sprained ankle.

Kickbacks

Kickbacks are rewards such as cash, jewelry, free vacations, corporate sponsored retreats, or other lavish gifts used to entice medical professionals into using specific medical services. This could be a small cash kickback for the use of an MRI when not required, or a lavish doctor/patient retreat that is funded by a pharmaceutical company to entice the prescription and use of a particular drug. People engaging in this type of fraud are also subject to the federal Anti-Kickback statute.

The Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Control Program (HCFAC) has recovered $19.2 billion since 2009 using analytics. That’s $8.10 for every $1.00 invested in the program.

But remember from 2009 until today the estimates for waste, fraud and abuse are between $330 and $400 billion. While the recovery of $19.2 billion is nothing to sneeze at we have a long way to go.

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‘Scootering’ all of the way to the bank

Motorized wheelchairThe Medicare program has been a target for scammers since its inception in 1965. Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history.

Doctors billed the program for exams that they did’t give. Millions of dollars were paid out to doctors and other medical professionals for counseling sessions. Then we had Russian diplomats scheming to get their healthcare costs covered by Medicaid.

Once of the most profitable scams was the motorized wheelchair. From 1999 Medicare has paid out $8.2 billion to procure power wheelchairs and “scooters” for 2.7 million people. Today, the government cannot even guess at how much of that money was paid out to scammers.

The scam was simple and extremely profitable for the crooks. They simply set up a medical-supply company and ginned up bogus bills. Saying that they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients, who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all, the scammers then pocketed the huge markup that the government paid on each chair.

And what a markup! “Let me put it to you this way: An $840 power wheelchair, Medicare pays close to $5,000 for. So there’s a huge profit margin there. Huge,” said one California man who participated in a recent fraud scheme involving wheelchairs.

But now the government is on to the scammers and this once-profitable scheme is slowly fading away. But scammers are truly inventive and they come up with new schemes everyday.

In Brooklyn, for instance, the next big thing is shoe inserts. Scammers bill Medicare for a $500 custom-made orthotic, according to investigators. They give the patient a $30 Dr. Scholl’s inserts.

While it lasted, the scooter scam illuminated a critical problem in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice.

Fraud in Medicare has been a top concern in Washington for decades, in part because the program’s mistakes are so expensive. In fiscal 2013, for instance, Medicare paid out almost $50 billion in “improper payments.”

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Educating Undocumented Students

Tiny illegal immigrantThe latest immigration crisis, floods of children coming over the border, has American in a real quandary. On the one hand many Americans are in favor of sending these children back to the countries of origin.

At the same time, Americans are a compassionate people. They are loathe to deny these illegal immigrants a basic education. But educating children is an expensive proposition. Across the nation the average cost to educate a child is $10,500.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the increased cost for English as a Second Language programs. As of 2009, about 70,000 children of illegal immigrants were enrolled in special English instruction classes, adding another $440 million for taxpayers, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The new school year will soon be in session, and according to USA Today, possibly overcrowded. Federal law mandates that all children enroll in public school this fall, including an estimated 50,000 undocumented immigrant children.

As the border crisis comes to the classroom, states are rushing to prepare by hiring more teachers and even opening new schools. Here’s a video report from USA Today.

In the state of Virginia well over 2,000 illegal immigrants have been placed in homes throughout the state. Most have gone to the homes of relatives. Starting this week they will be enrolled in public schools all over the state.

But helping enroll school-aged children who aren’t citizens, as federal law requires, is just a typical part of the school year for those such as Gladis Bourdouane, communications director for family engagement and public information for Arlington County Public Schools.

For us, we’ve been doing this forever. This is nothing new. Our practices continue to remain the same. We have very good processes in place. For us, this is business as usual.

This casual attitude by one education bureaucrat begs the question: who will pay the additional cost for all of these students? Why, the American taxpayers will pay as they usually do?

Not only will we have to pay for the education expenses but children without citizenship or visas are eligible for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program, a program that cost Americans $11.6 billion in 2012.

What does this all mean for the deportation of these minor children? The longer that they remain in this country the more difficult that it will be to send them back. By the time they have deportation hearings and endless appeals it will be almost impossible to send them back.

And who knows if this administration or future administrations will have the courage to deport children who have become woven into the fabric of America?

America is a nation of immigrants. Somewhere along the line we or our ancestors were immigrants. Many immigrants were told that the streets of America were paved with gold.

Of course, the streets weren’t literally paved with gold but for the immigrants and their descendants they made their futures in this land of opportunity.

I am reminded of a Sicilian bootmaker who came here in 1895. Within two years he sent for his wife and five children. His family prospered through four generations.

An earlier immigrant came here from Ireland with his brother because they had no future in the country of their birth. Both men defended this country on the battlefields of the Civil War, seeing the best and the worst of America.

Eventually the son of the bootmaker married the granddaughter of the Irishmen. I am just one of their 11 grandchildren.

You see what I mean about having a quandary about these children. George Will, the well-known conservative has said that we should welcome these children to the fabric of America. After all we’re talking about a mere drop in the melting pot of America.

You decide.

 

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Inspectors General Say Obama Administration Obstructing Justice

Lies Obama Told UsThis post from Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation says it all about the Obama administration’s lack of transparency. When 73 Inspectors General say Obama administration is obstructing justice it’s time that we realize they are hiding something.

In an unprecedented letter, a majority of the federal government’s inspectors general (IGs) claim that the Obama administration is obstructing their investigations into government mismanagement and corruption. So much for President Obama’s claim that his would be the most transparent administration in history.

And it truly IS unprecedented. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says “there has never been a letter even with a dozen IGs complaining” about such obstruction by an administration. The fact that the Justice Department’s IG, Michael Horowitz, also signed on is particularly revealing. After all, it is the duty of senior executive officers like Eric Holder to advise subordinate officials that they are obligated to cooperate with the IGs of their agencies.

On Aug. 5, 47 of the federal government’s 73 inspectors general, many of whom were appointed by President Obama, sent their letter to Issa, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), and the ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees — essentially pleading with Congress to help the IGs do their jobs uncovering waste, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption within their respective agencies.

In the letter, the IGs complain about the “serious limitations on access to records that have recently impeded the work” of IGs at the Peace Corps, the EPA, and the Department of Justice. Administration lawyers have construed laws related to privilege in “a manner that would override the express authorization contained in the IG Act” and seriously impede the “ability [of the IGs] to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.”

According to the letter, the Justice Department withheld “essential records” in three different reviews, despite the fact that such records had been produced for the DOJ IG “in many prior reviews without objection.” Michael Horowitz eventually got access to the files, it seems, but not because Department officials realized they were misinterpreting the IG law in withholding access. No, Horowitz got the records only after DOJ leadership decided that “the three reviews were of assistance to the Department of Justice’s leadership.”

In other words, Attorney General Eric Holder and his political subordinates only gave the IG access to these records because they decided there was nothing in them that would prove embarrassing.

This is in blatant disregard of the Inspector General Act passed by Congress in 1978. As the IGs point out, Section 6 of the IG Act gives IGs access to “to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material available” to the agency involved. Neither Eric Holder nor the head of any other federal agency has the right to withhold documents or other records relevant to an investigation from the IG for any reason unless another federal law “expressly so states,” let alone because that official thinks such records might reveal wrongdoing, ethical improprieties, or other embarrassing information.

A Justice Department spokesmanstated that “because the documents at issue included grand jury material, credit reports, and other information whose dissemination is restricted by law, it was necessary to identify exceptions to the laws to accommodate the inspector general’s request.” However, that is a poor excuse to stonewall or slow-walk the Inspector General’s inquiry.

As Prof. Ronald Rotunda, one of the leading ethics experts in the country, says in his treatise on “Legal Ethics – The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility,” while a government lawyer does have an attorney-client privilege with his client, that client is the government. Therefore, the government lawyer cannot assert the privilege to refuse to divulge information “when it is the government itself that is seeking the information.”

Thus, any privilege doctrine — whether it be attorney-client, grand jury secrecy, or premised on some other privacy interest — does not generally prevent lawyers within DOJ from providing confidential information to the lawyers working in the IG’s office, who are also DOJ employees.

Gerald Walpin, the former IG of Americorp who was fired after he filed a report accusing a political supporter of President Obama of misusing an Americorp grant for personal use, says that he is “not surprised that this administration employs any means to thwart IGs’ performance of their important job.” He calls the privilege claim “ludicrous,” adding: “IGs are as entitled to all documents in the possession of an agency as anyone else in the agency.”

As the IGs say, “effective and independent oversight by Inspectors General” saves taxpayers money and improves the operations of the federal government. The behavior of the responsible agency heads with respect to the internal watchdogs in those agencies leaves those federal agencies “insulated from scrutiny and unacceptably vulnerable to mismanagement and misconduct.”

Congress and the American people should be extremely concerned by the behavior of the administration and the serious charges made by almost four dozen IGs whose responsibilities range across the entire spectrum of the federal government, from the Justice Department to the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Security Agency. The only thing more dangerous than an administration that abuses its power is an administration that tries to hide what it is doing from taxpayers, voters, and our elected representatives in Congress.

This article was originally published on Town Hall.

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The Great Pyramid of California

High Speed RailIn 2540 BC the Great Pyramid of Giza was begun and approximately 20 years later it was completed. No one knows how much that it cost and how many died building it. What we do know is that the Pharaoh Khufu was buried there in 2566 BC.

The pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, unsurpassed until the 520 foot spire of Lincoln Cathedral was completed c. 1300.

Fast forward to modern-day California where Governor Jerry Brown is attempting to push through his High Speed Rail (HSR) project connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.

As David Dayen explained in Politico Magazine a few months ago:

[T]here is one project Brown has decided not to save for the future, his Great Pyramid of Giza: building the nation’s first high-speed rail line, one of the largest infrastructure projects in US history, with an estimated price tag of $68 billion—if not higher. Shovels are poised to hit the ground this year on the first section of track, the latest advance in Brown’s 32-year quest to erect something he believes befits the image of California as a “land of dreams.”

A recent California Appeals Court ruling allows the project to proceed without knowing where all the money will come from as it continues construction. It should be noted that large infrastructure programs seldom have all of their money lined up in advance. And at an estimated $68 billion and climbing, this is a large project.

A recent budget deal included the creation of a dedicated funding stream for the rail project, paid for by fees on polluters.

But one of Mr Brown’s most devoted foes, Kevin McCarthy, just took over as the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives in Washington, all but ensuring that there will be no more federal funds for the project in the immediate future.

However, here’s a story Dan Richard, the head of the state’s high-speed rail authority, told The Atlantic’s James Fallows recently:

When we started [expanding] BART [San Francisco's subway system] to SFO [San Francisco International Airport], we were supposed to have $750 million in federal funding. We had virtually none for years and Senator Dianne Feinstein and I walked out of Senator Mark Hatfield’s office [Hatfield was a senior member and once-and-future chairman of the powerful appropriations committee] in 1994 with the first $25 million, which was a pittance. In the end, we received all $750 million and that was after Republicans took control of the Congress and 1994 and we were assured we wouldn’t get another dollar of federal monies.

Recently, a panel of outside experts told a state Senate committee that California’s bullet train will not meet the 2-hour-and-40-minute travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco that voters were promised when they approved billions of dollars in funding for the program a few years back.

Opponents of high-speed rail are now trying to force a popular vote on whether to scrap the project. A similar effort failed to qualify for the ballot in 2012—mostly because its backers were not able to raise the money needed to gather enough signatures. They may have better luck if stories such as this continue to reduce public support.

 

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