The Federal government has an army of Inspectors General but sometimes it seems that we’re looking in the wrong spots. Cutting some silly grant for teaching shrimp to workout on a treadmill or a study on duck penises just won’t cut really big bucks from the Federal budget. Instead, the waste fighters must start going after the big ticket items.
One of the big ticket items that could do with some reforming is the disability insurance system. In recent years it has become a kind of shadow welfare system. Something like 14 million people are now receiving disability payments. And it’s a number that is growing. In the last 15 years the number of people receiving disability benefits has doubled.
Abuses abound with some doctors appointing themselves as arbiters of who ought to get federal support, finding people disabled or not based on their job prospects, according to This American Life’s report from March 2013.
According to a Hamilton Project proposal by Jeffrey Liebman and Jack Smalligan, disability insurance reform could save $10-$20 billion over 10 years. One of the biggest obstacles is a resistance to the up-front spending needed to realize these savings: such an expenditure would be on-budget, while the savings for the Social Security system would be categorized as mandatory spending.
Again, Congress needs the political will to make the changes needed to reform the system. Resisting the impulse to help those who seem sympathetic and moving forward with reform will take a great deal of fortitude. No one wants to be called a mean person, most especially a politician.
Another big ticket item is the rent that the Federal government pays to landlords all over the country. Recent reports have suggested that Federal departments have overpaid on their space and rented too much of it.
Every year the federal government spends $4.2 billion renting office space. Some agencies rent instead of own because they operate in critical locations with specific security or workplace needs.
In a recent report the Department of the Interior’s inspector general found that Bureau of Indian Affairs had done both at a cost of $32 million in waste.
Another glaring example of waste: when Health and Human Services’ lease expires on its Rockville, Md., building, the agency will have paid rent on a private building for 60 years rather than owning it.
The Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle is renewing a lease that will keep it in its building for 50 years. And the Department of Commerce in Alexandria, Va., pays $60 million year in rent.
Renting rather than owning its space sometimes creates a whole new set of issues when it comes to renovating space that it does not own. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in D.C. recently told Congress it plans to spend $95 million to renovate the building it’s renting from another agency.
The State Department just spent $80 million renovating office space for a lease that’s up in five years. It has an option to buy, but if it can’t come up with the money, chances are the landlord will think about that when it’s time to renegotiate the rent.
Then, of course, we have the thousands of buildings that are sitting vacant or being under-utilized. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who sits on the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform has introduced legislation to help get rid of thousands of government buildings that are sitting vacant or unused.
“When you see these departments and agencies leasing a building and then investing millions and millions of dollars to retrofit them for their specific need, it just sort of drives you nuts,” he says, “At the same time that we’ve got 77,000-plus buildings that are under-utilized.”
Chaffetz says federal agencies like the General Services Administration have been unable to account for all the buildings the government owns so it’s hard to know if they can be of use.