Brother, Can You Spare Another Trillion or Two?

money in flames

It’s taken for granted that everyone has a right to a safety net, and that government must provide it.

This unquestioned assumption rests on two ideas.

Assumption # 1: We are all each other’s keepers, and the government has a right (if not obligation) to force some people to take care of others, whenever the government deems that appropriate.

Assumption # 2: The government actually performs the task of charity it claims to perform.

Let’s take a look at the second claim.

The Foundation for Government Accountability released a report Thursday detailing the worst examples of welfare fraud and how to fix them.

“Across the nation, government welfare programs are plagued with wasteful spending,” the report contended. “Although the federal government does not maintain a national estimate of improper payments in cash assistance programs, state-by-state reviews have identified excessive rates of waste, fraud and abuse.”

“An audit in 2013 of the Nebraska Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) program—a component of the state’s Medicaid program—found that the state lacked appropriate documentation in every reviewed case file, calling into question the entirety of expenditures made under the program,” the report detailed. “More than three-quarters of the audited cases had received incorrect payments, with auditors identifying several cases of apparent fraud.” [source: dailycaller.com, 4/4/15]

And from the referenced report, there’s this:

The cost of welfare fraud and abuse is substantial. Not only do welfare scams result in millions of taxpayer
dollars paid out to ineligible, undeserving fraudsters, they also steal limited resources away from truly
needy individuals and families. Put simply, welfare fraud is a fiscal and moral crime.

No state is immune. From New York to Nebraska, reviews of states’ welfare systems found individuals
receiving taxpayer-funded welfare benefits without having their identity, assets, and even residency
verified. Other reviews found individuals who no longer qualified for welfare benefits continuing to receive
them—including millionaire lottery winners and even individuals who had died years prior.

Welfare scams drain state budgets, put the truly vulnerable at greater risk, and anger voters. But there is a
simple solution to stop the scam …[source: thefga.org]

There is, but it’s not the one that anyone will propose. That solution? Get the government out of welfare and charity … completely and permanently.

There’s no other solution.

For decades, people have talked about welfare fraud. “Waste, fraud and abuse.” It’s an absurd cliché. You cannot change basic facts. Government is not accountable in the way that a private charity would be. It can’t be.

Government has a mandate to make sure that people entitled to benefits — under the law — get them. If you work for a government agency distributing handouts, you don’t wish to be caught denying benefits to those who claim them. Similarly, if you are high up in a government agency and perhaps connected to influential politicians who fund you, you also don’t want to be seen as saying “no.” These are legal entitlements we’re talking about. You have to err on the side of making sure people get them.

A private charity, on the other hand, exists for the purpose of actually helping out someone in a particular situation. There are no legal issues. Giving is voluntary. People running the charity have an obligation to their donors. If they fail to give the benefits to the right people, and end up engaging in widespread fraud or abuse, they will lose donations.

Government welfare agencies cannot go out of “business.” They will continue to exist, no matter what. Decade after decade, we read stories about massive welfare, Medicare, Medicaid or other kinds of government fraud. Is there a possibility that any of these agencies will ever close down for not doing a good job? Of course not.

Imagine running for office as either a Republican or Democrat and saying, “I propose phasing out Medicaid, welfare and Medicare. There’s too much fraud and the private market, combined with private charity, should take care of these matters, consistent with the U.S. Constitution.” To say that you’d be run out of town would be to put it mildly. And that’s really sad, because this should at least be open for debate, as America continues to rack up ruinous levels of debt along with taxation, and unfundable mandates, as far as the eye can see.

When government agencies fail, they get more money. When government agencies fail further, they get still more money. It’s not going to change. Rewarding failure is built into the very nature of the system — whether it’s government charity and aid or government handling matters of business, medical care, or education.

This isn’t rocket science, and none of it’s surprising. What’s surprising is that it never occurs to anyone to propose a totally private sector for charity. It’s taken for granted that only the government can or will do it; and no matter how badly the government fails at it, nobody ever questions the fact that government must continue doing it.

Millions of dollars already go into private charity, even with the existence of the government welfare state. Presumably, even more would go into private charity without the welfare state. Free people are the most generous people. Starving or struggling people do not have the luxury of generosity.

However, there would probably be less perceived or actual need of a government charity state in the absence of our welfare state, because the private economy would be robust and flourishing. Taxes would be at a minimum and government would not interfere in the private economy. Politicians would have nothing to do other than make sure the courts and military run properly — more than enough for a government to handle. In a flourishing private economy, there would be no excuse for not making a living unless you really were down and out, and had exhausted every opportunity to take care of yourself. Charity should not be mandated; but keep in mind that it would never be against the law, either.

Private charity is not, of course, infallible. There have been scandals and there’s probably money wasted in private charities, although not nearly as much as in government charity. The crucial difference, aside from the crucial fact that private charity is voluntary and government welfare is coerced? Private charities can shut down, while government charities will never go away.

The same issue that applies to private business applies equally to private charity. Entities that can go out of business (or service) are inherently accountable; they exist to serve the purpose they claim to serve. If they fail (either through dishonesty or incompetence), they go away. Just as customers will stop pouring money into a private business that doesn’t deliver what it promises, donors will stop pouring money into a private charity that racks up scandal and fraud, as government charities do on a daily basis.

If it’s charity and help for the needy that’s your passion, you should be at the front of the line in getting the government the hell out of the way, when it comes to private charity. It’s morally wrong to compel people to pay for the well-being of others. When you try, the corrupt and rotten system that is our present-day entitlement and transfer-of-wealth state is precisely and logically what you had to get.

“States can deter eligibility fraud by publicly prosecuting individuals who knowingly scam the system,” the report detailed. “All cases of fraud and misrepresentation should be referred to the appropriate authorities for prosecution and benefit recovery. States would be able to use traditional collection tools, including garnishing wages or tax refunds, in order to recover the value of fraudulently-obtained benefits.”

“States should uphold the sacred trust that comes with the collecting and spending of taxpayer dollars by collecting any fraudulent welfare payments and removing individuals from other public programs if they have committed fraud,” it added. [from dailycaller.com]

This is not a new solution. Of course the government can prosecute cheaters. But this takes time and money. And as I said, government programs aren’t punished for doing a bad job.

This obvious solution is worthless. If it had any value, then fraud and waste in government charity would have subsided a long time ago. But even this non-solution is too much for some:

Not everyone, however, agrees with the solution. The Center for American Progress, a left leaning research group, argues reforms should be focused on expanding programs.

Ah, there it is. The solution to government waste, fraud and abuse? More government money. More taxes, more debt, more wealth redistribution. This is the same way more money for public education is justified, when fewer students are adequately schooled; give more money. Ditto for anything else the government touches. When it fails, just spend more.

There’s no reforming any of these programs. When will people start to get this? When will it become at least one side of the debate?

Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael  Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1

 

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Backyard burger and wiener roasts targeted by EPA

barbecueThe Environmental Protection Agency has its eyes on pollution from backyard barbecues.

The agency announced that it is funding a University of California project to limit emissions resulting in grease drippings with a special tray to catch them and a “catalytic” filtration system.

The $15,000 project has the “potential for global application,” said the school.

The school said that the technology they will study with the EPA grant is intended to reduce air pollution and cut the health hazards to BBQ “pit masters” from propane-fueled cookers.

Charged with keeping America’s air, water and soil clean, the EPA has been increasingly looking at homeowners, especially their use of pollution emitting tools like lawn mowers.

The school is proposing two fixes to reduce emissions from barbecues. First, they want to cut back on grease flare-ups. The idea: “A slotted and corrugated tray is inserted immediately prior to meat flipping, and removed immediately after. This short contact time prevents the tray from over-heating and volatilizing the collected grease. This collected grease will then drip off into a collection tray and can be used at the pit master’s discretion.”

But, total capture isn’t “practical,” so a filter and fan are proposed for installation. “The secondary air filtration system is composed of a single pipe duct system which contains a specialized metal filter, a metal fan blade, a drive shaft, and an accompanying power system with either a motorized or manual method. This system can be powered by either an exterior electric motor with a chain-driven drive shaft, directly spinning the fan blade, or a hand-powered crank,” said the project write-up.

The grant is part of the EPA’s “National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014).”

The EPA also said that it does not regulate backyard barbecues. Research conducted by the University of California Riverside is part of the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, which is a student design competition for sustainability.

The expected results, according to the proposal:

“We expect to limit the overall air pollution PM [particulate matter] emissions from barbecuing and to alleviate some of the acute health hazards that a barbecue pit master can experience from inhalation. The particulate matter present during cooking with and without the grease diverter and PM2.5 filters will be tested and compared to that of current data using a conventional propane barbecue using a fumehood chamber with detectors at CE-CERT. Personal exposure of PM2.5 will also be monitored throughout the experimentation period to determine the degree of acute exposure of particulates to the cook.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.

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EPA Wants to Monitor How Long Hotel Guests Spend in the Shower

Shower headThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants hotels to monitor how much time its guests spend in the shower.

The agency is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”

“Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world,” an EPA grant to the University of Tulsa reads. “Most hotels do not monitor individual guest water usage and as a result, millions of gallons of potable water are wasted every year by hotel guests.”

“The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers,” it said. “This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

The funding is going toward creating a prototype and market analysis for the device. The goal of the project is to change the behavior of Americans when they stay at hotels.

“This technology will provide hotel guests with the ability to monitor their daily water online or using a smartphone app and will assist hotel guest in modifying their behavior to help conserve water,” the grant said.

The project was filed under “Water conservation,” “Urban water planning,” and “Sustainable water management.”

The EPA also has a WaterSense program that challenges hotels to track their water use and upgrade their restrooms with low-flow toilets and showerheads.

The program also encourages “linen and towel reuse programs” in guest rooms.

The EPA is concerned that the average shower, which lasts just eight minutes, uses 18 gallons of water, and has asked Americans to reduce their shower length by at least one minute.

Tyler W. Johannes, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Tulsa’s School of Chemical Engineering who is working on the project, told the Washington Free Beacon that the researchers hope to see the technology “adopted by all major hotels and used across the country.”

He said the device seeks to get hotel guests to limit their showers to seven minutes as a start.

Johannes and his team assumed the average hotel shower lasts 8.2 minutes, using 17.2 gallons of water per guest per shower.

“Initially our device/app seeks to get hotel guests to reduce their water use by 10 percent or to reduce their showers by about one minute,” he said.

Johannes provided a link to Home Water Works, which recommends taking a five minute shower to reduce water use.

The website, which is a project of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, also suggests watering plants with discarded cold water from showers that take a long time to heat up, and taking “navy showers.”

“The method requires three steps: 1) turn on water to rinse body and hair; 2) turn off water while shampooing hair and washing body with soap and washcloth; 3) resume water flow and rinse off all shampoo and soap,” the group said. “Using this technique, the total duration of water flow can easily be reduced to 5 minutes or less.”

_

Following publication of this story, EPA deputy press secretary Laura Allen, said the “EPA is not monitoring how much time hotel guests spend in the shower.”

“Let us be very clear, EPA is not monitoring how much time hotel guests spend in the shower,” Allen said. “As part of the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3), a student design competition for sustainability, students at the University of Tulsa are conducting research to develop a novel low-cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers. The marketplace, not EPA, will decide if there is a demand for this type of technology. It’s ultimately up to hotels to use technology like the monitors being developed at the University of Tulsa. EPA is encouraging creativity with water conservation efforts.”

Elizabeth Harrington Email | Full Bio | RSS
Elizabeth Harrington is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Elizabeth graduated from Temple University in 2010. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, she worked as a staff writer for CNSNews.com. Her email address is elizabeth@freebeacon. Her Twitter handle is @LizWFB.

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Al Sharpton, Hillary Clinton, Lois Lerner Share Recordkeeping Tips

Al-SharptonWe may never get the full story of Hillary Clinton’s emails, or Lois Lerner’s for that matter. Both were savvy enough to be selective. One can add Al Sharpton to the clever trio, although his contribution to the game may be more old-fashioned: fires that destroy tax records. In his own low tech way, Rev. Sharpton has managed to keep tax problems under raps that would be catastrophic for mere mortals.

As Americans look for receipts and pour over their records, some may be struck by the odd serendipity. Maybe we all will learn that no one in government knows how to use email except Hillary Clinton. Even before we knew that Mrs. Clinton never used the State Department email system, President Obama was adamant that there was no smidgen of corruption at the IRS. Employees were confused. Cincinnati went rogue. Etc.

Yet in recent hearings of the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, the Treasury Inspector General testified that he is investigating possible criminal activity at the IRS. All this as Mrs. Clinton’s remarkable e-mail drama is acted out–and acted is right. Meanwhile, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.) introduced a bill to bar IRS employees from using non-official e-mail for government business. Lois Lerner allegedly also used her personal account to discuss IRS matters.

Oh, texts too (listen up Mrs. Clinton). In 2013, when the IRS targeting scandal was already brewing, Ms. Lerner asked an IT specialist if the IRS saved texts? No, not automatically, he said, but the IT person also said saving them was possible, so be careful. “Perfect,” was Ms. Lerner’s response. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified that he was unaware of the instant-messaging system. Of course, he also testified at how hard the IRS looked for Lerner’s emails.

Remember all those many millions of dollars of taxpayer money the IRS spent looking? Yet House Members were recently told by the Inspector General that the IT staff of the IRS said they were never even asked for backup tapes to find Lerner’s emails. Deputy Inspector General Tim Camus said finding the emails was easy. “They were right where you would expect them to be,” he told the Oversight Committee on Feb. 27.

A probe for potential criminal activity related to covering-up Lerner’s emails? The fact that the C word is being used by the Inspector General is remarkable. That isn’t proof, of course, but it is astounding, even if that is as far as it goes. Records reveal that Ms. Lois Lerner received $129,000 in bonuses, averaging $43,000 a year on top of her salary during the time she was presiding over alleged discrimination against conservative nonprofits.

Even before Ms. Lerner became the face of the IRS targeting scandal, there were allegations she had prior history of targeting conservatives. She would become what George Will called the scowling face of the state. She repeatedly refused to testify, yet collects a nice federal pension. Proof is so terribly important.

And that brings us to Rev. Al Sharpton. He has achieved much and rendered comfort to many. Yet his reputation is not exactly spotless. Mr. Sharpton has been accused , for example, by Eric Garner’s daughter, of being all about the money. Yet the reverend and activist owes New York State over $900,000 in taxes, and greater sums to the IRS. With about $4.5 million in tax liens, most taxpayers know they would be pushed and prodded to pay.

Mr. Sharpton seems unfazed. There might be some serendipity here too. Despite multiple run-ins with the tax man, on several occasions he suffered fires that destroyed his records just as he was about to turn them over to officials. He may have explained the tax receipts rule the IRS keeps quiet. In Cohan v. Commissioner, the Appeals Court rocked the IRS back on its heels with the Cohan Rule. It allows taxpayers to prove by “other credible evidence” they actually incurred deductible expenses.

In any case, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder defends Rev. Sharpton’s ties to the White House, although other people have questioned why President Obama would elevate Rev. Sharpton, when he owes millions in taxes. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that the Justice Department may try to pick up where the IRS and Ms. Lerner left off. The team Mr. Holder has assembled, including Richard Pilger, who first contacted Ms. Lerner in 2010 about going after certain organization, has been called Eric Holder’s speech police.

In 2010, Ms. Lerner relayed to the Justice Department a database of 1.1 million documents, including protected taxpayer information. Are you worried your tax records might be among them? Cheer up. With all the time Rev. Sharpton is spending in Washington, there could be a fire.

This post by Robert W. Wood appeared on Forbes. For alerts to future tax articles, follow me on Forbes. You can reach me at Wood@WoodLLP.com. This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.

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GAO Reports Government Waste was $125 Billion for 2014

Golden HammerThe Government Accountability Office has reported that government waste for 2014 has reached $125 billion. Federal agencies are continuing to waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on duplicative spending efforts, even after Congress‘ official watchdog has made hundreds of recommendations for cutting back.

The wasteful spending ranges from healthcare spending, like Medicare and Medicaid, to Defense Department weapons systems to more mundane spending at the VA and the USDA.

The GAO has made some 440 recommendations over 180 areas in the last five years. Yet the wasteful spending continues apace. Yet as of November 2014, only 29 percent of the actions were fully addressed, according to the latest GAO report.

According to Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform solving the waste issue would help the government in many ways:

Solving that would give you enough money to kill the death tax, repeal the federal gas tax and airline ticket tax, end all federal excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco and remove all federal taxes on phone and Internet bills. After that, there would still be enough money left over to give everyone in America a tax cut of $60 just for having a pulse.

The wasteful spending forces the government to make blunt financial cutbacks, such as sequestration, in order to cope with the losses. “The federal government faces an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Changing this path will require difficult fiscal policy decisions to alter both long-term federal spending and revenue,” the GAO analysts concluded.

Politicians love to talk about government waste. They trumpet it as the answer to everything that ails the government yet nothing is ever done. The simply don’t have the political will to battle the lobbyists and supporters of each individual program.

The GAO report reads:

For example, we reported in 2013 that a total of 31 federal departments and agencies invested billions of dollars to collect, maintain and use geospatial information — information linked to specific geographic locations that support many government functions, such as maintaining roads and responding to natural disasters.

The GAO report targeted both the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services for mismanaging programs that saw rampant wasteful spending.

For the first time in recent years, the government-wide improper payment estimate increased in fiscal year 2014, primarily due to significant increases in the improper payment estimates for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These programs combined account for over 76 percent of the government-wide estimate. We have made numerous recommendations that if effectively implemented, could help improve program management, reduce improper payments in these programs, and achieve cost savings.

A spokesperson for HHS could not be reached for comment. In an email statement sent to The Washington Times, the IRS attributed the improper payments cited in the report to a lack of funding and manpower to help oversee the EITC.

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Taxpayers’ Losses Are Rising

A bottomless pitWASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) reacted with dismay to the rise in improper payments that was described during Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro’s March 4 testimony before the Senate Budget Committee.

The hearing was called to review GAO’s report on “Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, Duplication, and Improper Payments and Achieve Other Financial Benefits,” which updated taxpayers on the progress (or lack thereof) in addressing more than 440 GAO recommended actions, both executive and congressional, to cut waste in government spending programs and implement efficiencies in government services, across 180 areas of concern that GAO has identified in past annual reports on overlap and duplication.

While the GAO estimated that executive branch and congressional actions have resulted in roughly $20 billion in “financial benefits” from fiscal years (FY) 2011 through 2014, only 29 percent of GAO’s recommendations were classified as “fully addressed” as of November 2014. While some progress has been made, a mountain of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement overshadows those successes.

In particular, the report disappointingly noted that “For the first time in recent years, the government-wide improper payment estimate significantly increased—to $124.7 billion in fiscal year 2014, up from $105.8 billion in fiscal year 2013. This increase of almost $19 billion was primarily due to estimates for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which account for over 76 percent of the government-wide estimate.” The $19 billion increase in improper payments essentially wipes out the $20 billion in “financial benefits” from implemented recommendations.

The reduction and elimination of improper payments has been a bipartisan cause. Two bills to help resolve the problem were enacted in 2010 and 2012, and President Obama promised in 2010 that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would cut the Medicare fee-for-service improper payment rate in half by 2012.

Unfortunately, Medicare improper payment rates are going in the opposite direction, for at least two reasons. First, GAO faulted CMS for failing to make good use of the anti-waste tools it has at hand, including the full implementation of prepayment edits to catch overpayments before they are made. Second, CMS has also suspended audits under the Recovery Contract Auditing (RAC) program.

“CMS’s mismanagement of improper payments is unnecessarily costing taxpayers money. The RAC program had returned $9.7 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund before it was cut off. The RACs have been out of commission for the past 18 months, during which Medicare improper payments have continued to rise. It is time for CMS to use every tool it has and fully restore all RAC audits immediately,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.

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Obama’s Not-So-Secret Immigration Operational Center

A federal judge may have temporarily halted President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, but the White House is still proceeding as if it expects the programs to stand. In this video, The Daily Signal explores one reason why.

The Obama administration, or more specifically a government agency called Citizenship and Immigration Services, has set up an “operational center” just outside Washington, D.C., as the hub that will process thousands of applications expected to come from Obama’s immigration actions.

Though no work is currently being done at the center due to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen last month, its existence shows some of the costs and change that will result from Obama’s executive actions to defer deportation for up to 5 million illegal immigrants and grant them work permits.

The video further explains the purpose of this not-so-secret operational center.

This post post by Josh Siegal appeared in The Daily Signal.

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5 Government Reforms That Could Save Billions

Capital with CashHere’s a post by Brianna Ehley of the Washington Times detailing five Government Reforms that could save billions.

Nearly every day, federal auditors release scathing reports detailing new and outrageous ways tax dollars are squandered–from massive projects that soar way over budget, to vulnerable programs that fall prey to fraud and abuse.

The auditors typically include recommendations for agencies so that similar problems within their departments can be prevented in the future. But what if there were broader solutions that could overhaul the entire way the government does its job to weed out waste before it happens?

One independent watchdog group thinks it has the answers.

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight released a massive wish list of reforms that targets everything from the way the government awards contracts to the lack of transparency over lobbying practices.

Much of POGO’s reform list involves the Defense Department’s programs and spending. This isn’t surprising since the Pentagon’s sprawling budget (the White House request for 2016 is $495.6 billion) hasn’t been successfully audited in decades.

POGO is calling for more transparency on how the DOD spends its money and greater scrutiny over some of its weapons programs like the F-35 fighter jet, which is hundreds of billions of dollars over budget and has never flown in combat.

The group has an unexpected new ally. Newly appointed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged as much in an especially scathing observation of his department.

“The taxpayer cannot comprehend it, let alone support the defense budget [given] cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead and the like,” Carter said. “This must stop.”

The watchdog group is asking Congress to embrace its so-called “roadmap to reform” in order to “achieve a more effective, accountable, open and ethical government” while potentially saving billions of dollars a year.

The watchdog’s list also targets broader areas of reform that can be applied across the government, like whistleblower protections, lobbying transparency and closer oversight over contracts and acquisitions.

Here are 5 reforms the government could implement to save tax dollars, recommended by POGO.

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT TRANSPARENCY
Problem: The NDAA greenlights more than half a trillion dollars in funding for the military and sets defense policy each year in discussion with the House Armed Services Committee. However, once it gets to the Senate it goes behind closed doors. With such a massive amount of money and high-stakes policy, POGO believes the process needs more transparency so the public can see how its tax dollars are spent.

Related: Ashton Carter: Americans Are Disgusted with Government Waste

Solution: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has said that he wants to make the process more transparent. POGO agrees and says the Committee meetings should be open and the NDAA text should be published online for easy access.

FEDERAL CONTRACTING
Problem: The federal government spent over $460 billion on goods and services in 2013  with much of that going towards costly projects that soar way over budget and far behind schedule — or as POGO puts it, “just plain wasteful.” As the group points out, there are serious problems with the way the government awards contracts, and the way some agencies deal with delinquent contractors who either don’t deliver the work they promised or deliver it in poor quality that ends up costing taxpayers more to rebuild.

Solution: POGO recommends that the federal government set up a more timely suspension and debarment process. Right now debarring or suspending contractors can take years, but by congressionally mandating that the process must be complete in a certain timeframe, it could be resolved faster. The group also suggested making contract awards more accessible on USASpending.gov.

LOBBYING TRANSPARENCY
Problem: The revolving door between government officials and private sector executives “frequently undermines the integrity of contracting, enforcement and regulatory decisions,” POGO said. When high-ranking public officials go into the private sector to lobby the same people they used to work with in the government, it can lead to serious conflicts of interest.

Solution: POGO recommends the federal government require former workers to agree to which programs and projects they are banned from working in the private sector. They should also be required to disclose where they used to work and for what length of time. The group also recommends that agencies require former federal workers to wait two years before contacting the part of the government they worked for in a lobbying capacity.

VETERANS AFFAIRS & WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS
Problem: The agency, embroiled in scandal, has allegedly been covering wait times and engaging in negligent treatment of its patients at VA hospitals across the country. As POGO points out, these serious problems would never have been discovered if whistleblowers hadn’t come forward to tell their stories. The agency is also struggling with an enormous backlog of cases forcing veterans to wait even longer to get treatment.

Solution: The group recommends calling on Congress to pass legislation that holds those retaliating against whistleblowers accountable. Separately, POGO says that the government should create more specific and transparent VA reporting requirements.

MILITARY ACQUISITION
Problem:
The Pentagon spends hundreds of billions of dollars on enhanced weapons programs that sometimes don’t work or can’t serve their intended purpose. Meanwhile, some new weapons systems are less effective than what the Pentagon already has and cost even more. Most of the time the problem stems from a lack of oversight of program development. For example, the littoral combat ship, designed to be light, and fast has soared way over budget and can’t even survive combat.

Related: $1 Billion Paid for Loose Bolts and Damaged Aircraft

Solution: Test drive. POGO recommends that the Defense Department should not allow weapons systems to be produced until contractors can prove through a series of simulated tests that the technologies will work as intended. It also recommends that DOD be held accountable when building such massive and costly weapons systems. The group suggests that Congress should routinely hold hearings to be updated on the programs development and progress.

Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.

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Super Twiggy and Wasteful Discretionary Spending

Super TwiggyNot all waste, fraud and abuse is pernicious spending. Much of it is discretionary spending run amuck. It seems that most members of Congress have pet programs and industry friends.

Despite all attempts to curb earmarks they still exist but under a different name. They’re secreted in bills throughout the budget. They’re so well-hidden and numerous that it’s very difficult for the waste-hunters to search them out.

When they do find them they find an important fact. Every program has a lobby to protect it. Ronald Reagan said: “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.” Ain’t it the truth.

Last summer the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was searching for cuts to replace supposedly savage spending reductions under the sequester.  A seemingly obvious boondoggle came up for a vote, the cartoon squirrel “Super Twiggy.”

Explained the Washington Post“The squirrel starred in Web videos in Spain, touting the health benefits of California-grown walnuts.  U.S. taxpayers had paid more than $3 million for Spanish walnut promotions, as part of a $200 million-per-year Agriculture Department program that promotes U.S. farm goods overseas.”

Farmers are among the largest recipients of government largess. Yet the taxpayers are paying for the advertising abroad under the “Market Access” Program at $200 million per year. And other government departments have similar.

One of the leaders in the attack was Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Ca.), who argued that “The Republican majority was supposed to end this kind of nonsense, not perpetuate it.”  Alas, 322 members voted to keep the cash flowing.  Only 98 legislators voted for lower spending.  An astonishing 142 GOP members joined 180 Democrats in voting to protect Super Twiggy.

Even more unseemly is the bipartisan fraud endemic to the budget process.  Gimmicks are constant.  For instance, legislators approved nearly $40 billion in reductions in 2011.  “But upon close inspection, many of those cuts were only-in-Washington illusions, paper money that was unlikely ever to be spent,” observed the Post.

The supposed reductions “included $6 billion for a census that wasn’t necessary, $280 million for a tunnel that was already canceled and $375,000 for a road that didn’t exist (the money had been allotted to a fictional road because of a typo).

Recently, it was reported that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) spent $12,500 to translate a Spanish novel on “homophobia,” which “examines heterosexual privilege and queer resilience.” Are they kidding? Have we finally gone off the deep end?

 


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The Top Five Programs that Waste Taxpayer’s money

Its not your moneyEvery year the Government Accountability Office publishes a “hall of shame” list, calling out programs or agencies that are the chief offenders when it comes to waste, fraud, and abuse.

The list is sent to Congress and the progress of each offenders corrective action is tracked. If the agency corrects the issues they are removed from the list. However, there aren’t many consequences for agencies that don’t improve … except for cementing a spot on the High Risk List.

Some, like the Defense Department, have been on the list for years for such problem areas as weapons acquisitions and financial management (DOD hasn’t been successfully audited in decades). Medicare, Medicaid, and the U.S. Postal Service also are frequently on the list. This year’s list includes 32 programs, an increase from last year’s 30.

Here are the top five programs from this year’s list:

Information Technology and Acquisitions

The U.S. government spends over $80 billion a year for information technology but its track record leaves a lot to be desired.

The most notable failure is HealthCare.gov, the exchanges for Obamacare. As everyone knows the original rollout was an abysmal failure and the program’s cost has ballooned to $2 billion.

HHS also abandoned its electronic health record system. It simply didn’t work. The GAO blamed these and other failures on management and planning. The GAO said in its report:

We have previously testified that the federal government has spent billions of dollars on failed IT investments. These and other failed IT projects often suffered from a lack of disciplined and effective management, such as project planning, requirements definition, and program oversight and governance.

Veterans Affairs health care

The Department of Veterans Affairs spent much of the year in the headlines. Secretary Eric Shinseki eventually resigned or was fired. He was replaced by Robert McDonald who is now under fire for claiming that he was in the Special Forces when he was actually an officer in the 82nd Airborne.

After a year of scandal at the VA, where officials were accused of keeping secret wait lists and hiding poor treatment of veterans, it’s no surprise the $55.5 billion health care program serving more than 8.9 million veterans is considered “high risk.” GAO said it issued eight reports on the VA health system last year detailing delays, lax oversight, and mismanagement.

IRS Tax Law Enforcement

The IRS has been a regular on the list since 1990. The tax gap (the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid) is an astounding $385 billion. This year the GAO looked at the agency’s efforts to combat tax fraud. Last year, the IRS paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds — though it prevented another $24.2 billion from being lost to identify fraud. Budget cuts, it says, could hamper its efforts to combat this.

Security of federal information systems and cyber infrastructure

Repeated attacks on public and private information systems has become an increasing threat to national security. The government is in a constant race to keep up with hackers and protect our cyber assets.

The growing number of high-profile breaches in the private sector, such as Sony’s, as well as more security incidents involving personal information at federal agencies has further raised the risk.

Pentagon weapon systems acquisition

Another long-time regular on the list has been a resident since 1990. The report said that the DOD has continued to fall short on cost-effectiveness, schedule management, and performance expectations.

The pricey F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter, for example, estimated to cost more than $1.5 trillion, has already gone hundreds of billions over budget, is far behind schedule and has fallen short of expectations. It’s still never flown in combat.

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