4:03 PM AKST, March 9, 2013
A week into the dreaded sequester, all sorts of doom are being predicted. As threats of service cuts grow, political fingers remain pointed in partisan blame. All of the politicians are responsible, yet none will take responsibility, though many agree the arbitrary spending cuts are, as the president said, dumb.
What's dumb is Washington won't get serious about managing its money, which really is your money. There are plenty of places Uncle Sam could cut back without furloughing employees and cutting critical services.
You think there isn't waste in Washington?
Then why did the Army pay an AWOL soldier who was missing for nearly two years more than $33,000? And why did another soldier who left the Army in 2009 continue to receive active duty pay for two more years, totaling $185,000?
Why did the Internal Revenue Service pay $1.1 million for BlackBerrys and aircards that weren't used regularly, or at all
Why is NASA sitting on 865 facilities it might not need that require $24 million in maintenance annually?
One word: politics.
"We noted several examples where political leaders intervened in plans to close or consolidate agency facilities," a report last month from NASA's inspector general said.
Here's another word: laziness.
Government audits point out waste and inefficiencies like those above, some possibly totaling billions of dollars, every year. There is plenty of money to be saved. But bureaucrats don't have the political willpower, or are too busy campaigning.
I wrote last year how the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office had recommended dozens of opportunities for the government to save potentially billions of dollars by eliminating duplicate services. Yet only a handful of those opportunities were taken seriously and implemented.
Instead, your government pushed a button March 1 to make $85 billion in automatic cuts, known as the sequester, across the board. If you believe the sky-is-falling politicians, those cuts have the potential to cause real pain, such as letting prisoners go free, letting seniors go hungry by missing Meals on Wheels, and putting local butchers and food processors on the chopping block because of furloughed meat inspectors.
Your leaders in Washington would rather do that than cut the stuff that should be cut. Remember that at election time.
The examples of wasteful spending I cited by the Army, IRS and NASA certainly don't add up to the $85 billion in sequester cuts. But they're certainly not the only examples. I found many more in less than an hour's work reviewing audits by inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office.
And that's just me. Other journalists also have been exposing the government's waste as politicians blubber about having to cut spending.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the White House, which wants you to be outraged about it having to cut public tours, employs three calligraphers earning a total of $277,000 annually. The paper said some of the government's other critical expenditures included building a robotic squirrel and a miniature street in West Virginia out of Legos.
I could go on and on.
In December, the inspector general for the Small Business Administration said the agency overpaid about $340,000 for computer hardware and software because it did not "conduct price reasonableness analyses" when awarding contracts.
That would be like you or me not comparing prices when we're car shopping.
In January, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found there was insufficient oversight in the national school lunch program to ensure food companies were passing along purchase discounts and credit for the value of USDA donated foods. The potential loss: nearly $1.7 million.
That's like you or me going to the grocery store without our coupons.
If you don't believe me that there's an ingrained culture of waste and indifference in Washington, maybe you'll believe the eggheads at NASA. I'm sure we all can agree they're among the smartest people on the planet. Here's what NASA's inspector general had to say about why the space agency has been slow to jettison unneeded assets.
Its audit last month noted NASA's "culture" holds it back. The agency's centers are competing for major programs, rewarding a "keep it in case you need it" philosophy.
"This culture has fostered a propensity for centers to build or preserve facilities that duplicate capabilities available elsewhere in the agency or lack an identified mission use," the report said.
It noted NASA has 36 wind tunnels at five sites, 35 rocket test stands at six sites and 40 large thermal vacuum chambers at seven sites.
I asked members of the Lehigh Valley's delegation in Washington what they think.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey did not respond to a request for comment, but Republican Rep. Charlie Dent told me Congress does consider the findings of auditors like the Government Accountability Office. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee and said it will review legislation this week to streamline dozens of possibly ineffective or redundant job training programs, as the GAO had suggested.
But he said even proposals like that are resisted, as supporters of programs on the chopping block rally behind them.
Dent said he agrees there is waste and abuse of funds in Washington, but said eliminating it is an involved process.
"There's not a line item in the federal budget that's called waste, fraud and abuse," he said.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate's major fiscal committees said, "We have an unbelievably lengthy list of opportunities to reduce wasteful government spending and excessive spending.
"Instead of closing down air traffic control facilities or military bases or FBI offices, maybe what the president could do is cut back on federal employee travel," Toomey said in a statement. "We spend $8 billion a year for federal employees to go to conferences and trips."
He questioned some of the government's spending decisions.
"We spend millions of dollars a year on an old-fashioned-style trolley in St. Louis and millions on a sports diplomacy exchange program," Toomey said. "We have 14,000 vacant and underutilized properties. We spend money for a cowboy poetry festival and a million dollars for taste-testing foods to be served on Mars."
If you've always thought some of your elected leaders were operating on another planet, there's your proof.
Check my blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/watchdog for Toomey's full statement, links to the audits I referenced and more information on the sequester.
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