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.