50 Ways the Feds Waste Our Money

Kurt Brouwer October 9th, 2009

We frequently are told by politicians that the only solution to our budget deficits at the Federal, state and local levels is to raise taxes.  I might buy this argument if those same politicians had made efforts to cut government spending that is not needed or is wasteful.  Unfortunately, those types of efforts get short shrift except when it is time to campaign.

From the Foundry blog, here are 10 examples of eggregious government waste:

50 Examples of Government Waste. (Foundry, October 6, 2009, Brian A. Riedl)

…Reducing wasteful spending is not easy. Even the most useless programs are passionately supported by the armies of recipients, administrators, and lobbyists that benefit from their existence. Identifying inefficiencies and abuses is much easier than devising a system to fix them. Many lawmakers focus more on bringing home earmarks than on performing the less exciting task of government oversight. Exasperated taxpayers see the cost of government rise with no end in sight.

Of course, eliminating waste cannot balance the budget. Lawmakers must also rein in spending by reforming Social Security and Medicare and by eliminating government activities that are no longer affordable. Yet government waste is the low-hanging fruit that lawmakers must clean up in order to build credibility with the public for larger reforms…

I have not cherrypicked these items, just took the first 10 from the Foundry’s list and added three bonus items from further down the list: [emphasis in the original]:

  1. The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.[1]

Okey dokey.  Has anyone thought of asking for these improper payments back?

  1. Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare (excluding TARP) versus $71 billion on homeland security.[2]

We should be able to get to bipartisan agreement on this one.  Some don’t like waste, some don’t like welfare and some don’t like corporations.  It’s a match made in heaven.

  1. Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.[3]

D’uh…Why not sell these properties?  We’d save $25 billion a year in maintenance savings alone plus the value of the properties, which are undoubtedly worth something.

  1. Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them–costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually–fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve.[4]

Unfortunately, lawmakers do not seem to feel that positive impact from government spending is critical.  Witness the Cash for Clunkers program and many others.  Nonetheless, this is definitely low hanging fruit.  But still, $123 billion for programs that show no positive impact?

  1. The Congressional Budget Office published a “Budget Options” series identifying more than $100 billion in potential spending cuts.[5]

This report from the CBO contains hundreds of recommendations to cut spending.  Again, we’re talking $100 billion per year.  $100 billion here and $100 billion there.  After a while, it adds up to real money.

  1. Examples from multiple Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports of wasteful duplication include 342 economic development programs; 130 programs serving the disabled; 130 programs serving at-risk youth; 90 early childhood development programs; 75 programs funding international education, cultural, and training exchange activities; and 72 safe water programs.[6]

Do we really need 342 Federal economic development programs?

  1. Washington will spend $2.6 million training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job.[7]

We previously said all we had to say on this one here: In this era of budgetary constraint and fiscal rectitude, we are pleased to report that our political leaders and bureaucratic chieftains have really gotten the message.  Otherwise, they would fund all kinds of crazy things.  Oops.

U.S. Will Pay $2.6 Million to Train Chinese Prostitutes to Drink Responsibly on the Job (CNS News, May 12, 2009, Edwin Mora)

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will pay $2.6 million in U.S. tax dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly on the job.

Dr. Xiaoming Li, the researcher conducting the program, is director of the Prevention Research Center at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

The grant, made last November, refers to prostitutes as ”female sex workers”–or FSW–and their handlers as “gatekeepers.”

“Previous studies in Asia and Africa and our own data from FSWs [female sex workers] in China suggest that the social norms and institutional policy within commercial sex venues as well as agents overseeing the FSWs (i.e., the ‘gatekeepers’, defined as persons who manage the establishments and/or sex workers) are potentially of great importance in influencing alcohol use and sexual behavior among establishment-based FSWs,” says the NIH grant abstract submitted by Dr. Li…

This study certainly seems essential doesn’t it?  After all, what could be more important to people in Detroit, home of Wayne State University, than that Chinese prostitutes drink responsibly?  And, since this ’study’ is funded by the Federal government, it’s not as though we have any problems closer to home, right?

  1. A GAO audit classified nearly half of all purchases on government credit cards as improper, fraudulent, or embezzled. Examples of taxpayer-funded purchases include gambling, mortgage payments, liquor, lingerie, iPods, Xboxes, jewelry, Internet dating services, and Hawaiian vacations. In one extraordinary example, the Postal Service spent $13,500 on one dinner at a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, including “over 200 appetizers and over $3,000 of alcohol, including more than 40 bottles of wine costing more than $50 each and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold.” The 81 guests consumed an average of $167 worth of food and drink apiece.[8]

It has been found over and over again that government employees abuse credit cards to the point where they really should be given out sparingly.  No doubt there are plenty of responsible bureaucrats who do not abuse cards, but nearly half of all purchases are either improper, fraudulent or embezzled?  C’mon.  Cut up the cards.

  1. Federal agencies are delinquent on nearly 20 percent of employee travel charge cards, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.[9]

Apparently, Federal employee not only abuse credit cards, but their agencies are also frequently delinquent in paying the bill.  From the link for this item #9, we read:

The most stunning revelation concerns not how the cards are used but rather how long it takes the government to pay its bill — and what those delays are costing taxpayers.

According to the most recent data from the Office of Management and Budget, in January 2009, governmentwide delinquency rate for centrally billed card accounts — those paid by an agency rather than an employee — was 19.23 percent. The average delinquency rate for individually billed cards was 6.25 percent, data showed.

A card is considered delinquent if a bill is outstanding for more than 60 days.

“A private travel agency would be out of business running this kind of operation,” said Scott Amey, POGO’s general counsel. “This report summarizes problems with individual transactions and, more important, with government agencies that aren’t safeguarding taxpayer dollars.”…

  1. The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.[10]

Now, in all fairness, the SEC has been given some new responsibilities, but that is still a lot of dough for a pretty modest task.

And, here are three bonus items:


12.  Over half of all farm subsidies go to commercial farms, which report average household incomes of $200,000.[12]

I have never understood this farm subsidy concept in which we pay well-to-do folks not to do something.  What does it take to kill off something as silly as this?

13.  Health care fraud is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $60 billion annually.[13]

Much has been made of this as a source of ‘found’ money to help pay the cost of health insurance reform.  OK, fine.  Why not just fix this problem first, if it’s so easy.  See this post, Why Not Fix Medicare First? for more on this issue.

And, finally, the Pentagon’s procurement group should be summarily fired. Of course, Congress shares some of the blame for this one because Congressional leaders have frequently put great pressure on the Pentagon to allow wasteful cost overruns.

14.  GAO audit found that 95 Pentagon weapons systems suffered from a combined $295 billion in cost overruns.[14]

This should also be a Congressional ‘no brainer’ because some in Congress don’t like waste and some don’t like the Pentagon.  I don’t want to undercut our military men and women at all.  They do a difficult and often dangerous job and I would like to make sure they have adequate resources.  Yet, cost overruns on big projects do no one any good.

It looks to me as though savings in just these 13 items would be in the hundreds of billions per year.

That’s enough to give insurance tax credits or vouchers to all those who do not have health insurance, with some spare change left over.  No need to do more deficit spending or to raise taxes.  Just cut the waste and do it first.  What’s not to like?

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3 Responses to “50 Ways the Feds Waste Our Money”

  1. 50 Ways the Feds Waste Our Moneyon 09 Oct 2009 at 5:12 pm

    [...] News Sources wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptWe frequently are told by politicians that the only solution to our budget deficits at the Federal, state and local levels is to raise taxes. I might buy this argument if those same politicians had made efforts to cut government spending that is not needed or is wasteful. Unfortunately, those types of efforts get short shrift except when it is time to campaign. From the Foundry blog, here are 10 examples of eggregious government waste: 50 Examples of Government Waste . (Foundry, October 6 [...]

  2. [...] “50 Ways the Feds Waste Our Money“: Despite its generic title, this list is worth perusing. Seventy-two billion dollars wasted on improper payments, $25 billion a year to maintain unused and/or vacant Federal properties, $2.6 million on “training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job” (yes, you read that correctly). To see the full list, visit Heritage.org. [...]

  3. [...] “50 Ways the Feds Waste Our Money“: Despite its generic title, this list is worth perusing. Seventy-two billion dollars wasted on improper payments, $25 billion a year to maintain unused and/or vacant Federal properties, $2.6 million on “training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job” (yes, you read that correctly). To see the full list, visit Heritage.org. [...]

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