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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

Last year, I conducted an informal poll at a conference in Paris.

I explained to the audience that the public sector consumed about 57 percent of the French economy and I asked them whether they got more services and better government than the people of Germany (where government consumed 44 pct of GDP), Canada (41 pct), or Switzerland (34 pct).

Unsurprisingly, not a single hand went up.

But maybe we should ask the same question in America. Are we getting the government we want?

That’s the message of this clever video.

I have a couple of editorial comments.

1. The video made a very good point about health insurance not being real insurance in a world of government intervention.

2. I also agree that much of the federal government is illegitimate, but that point is irrelevant since we have Justices on the Supreme Court who don’t care that the federal government is supposed to be limited to those functions listed in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution.

3. The system is based on coercion. If you don’t pay taxes, you go to jail. If you resist, they shoot you. Only in Washington is that type of system known as “voluntary compliance.”

4. The video is absolutely correct that the nation did just fine for most of our nation’s history with no income tax.

But enough of my commentary. Let’s think for a few minutes of what would happen if we could use our tax returns to allocate our tax dollars. How many people would voluntarily finance the waste at places such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or Department of Agriculture?

Reason Waste Poll But even the legitimate parts of government are riddled with waste. I believe in national defense, for instance, but that doesn’t mean I want to pay for stupid statues, subsidize green fuel, or prop up Europe’s welfare states by keeping outmoded military alliances.

That’s why I’m not surprised to see that Americans think, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll,  that 50 cents out of every tax dollar is wasted.

My leftist friends, when confronted with this type of polling data, are generally dismissive. They say ordinary people are misinformed and stupid because fraud rates for government programs (as shown in the P.S. of this post) tend to be far lower than 50 percent.

But their definition of “waste” is far too narrow. I don’t care if every single dollar of food stamps goes to people who are “eligible” or if the rules are followed for every mass transit subsidy. Those are not legitimate and proper functions of Washington.

When government is taking money from some people and using those funds to buy votes from other people, every penny is being wasted.

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Every so often, I share stories about the ridiculous and outrageous way in which the federal government squanders our money.

So when I saw this New York Post story about the feds pissing away a six-figure sum on condom research, I figured this would be a perfect addition to my collection of government waste stories.

The federal government is stretching your tax dollars — in search of the perfect condom. The National Institutes of Health will spend $224,863 to test 95 “custom-fitted” condoms so every American man can choose the one that fits just right.

And it’s a good match with this story about Washington flushing away more than $400K on research about men not liking to wear condoms.

Do we really need to spend other people’s money to figure out that guys, if they have to wear condoms, would like them to fit?!?

But then I found something in the story that genuinely surprised me. Apparently there are federal regulations that restrict the types of condoms that can be sold in the United States!

The NIH blames US “regulatory guidelines” for American men having to choose from a “narrow range of condom sizes.” The six-figure grant was awarded to TheyFit of Covington, Ga., which offers a wide variety of condoms that vary in length — from a bit more than 3 inches to nearly 9 ¹/₂ — and in width. They’re available in European Union countries, but not in the United States, where they would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

I’m flabbergasted. I can vaguely understand why the government might regulate some aspects of condom production, such as durability rules to limit breakage. I don’t think such red tape is necessary because companies already plenty of incentive – because of both reputational risk and preemptive legal protection – to maintain good standards.

But at least you can see a rationale for bureaucrats to intervene.

I can’t imagine, though, what excuse regulators came up with when they decided to limit the variety of condom sizes. Maybe this is a literal example of the one-size-fits-all mentality of Washington?

Condom UNAnd isn’t it embarrassing that Europeans have a more market-friendly approach on this issue?

Though none of us should be surprised that the Keystone Cops at the United Nations want to create a human right to obtain taxpayer-financed condoms.

At least Sandra Fluke will be happy about that.

P.S. Here’s a Glenn McCoy cartoon about Obama and subsidized condoms.

P.P.S. Since I started this post with examples of wasteful spending, but then decided that this story might belong in the category of absurd regulation, let’s close by sharing some examples of foolish red tape.

Addendum: A friend with a warped sense of humor emailed to suggest a unflattering link between the condom research and the note left on my windshield right before Christmas. So I can only imagine what my enemies are saying.

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When you work in Washington (and assuming you haven’t been corrupted), you run the risk of being endlessly outraged about all the waste.

But not all waste is created equal. Some examples are so absurd that they deserve special attention.

We now have another example to add to the list. Russian diplomats have been busted for bilking the Medicaid program of more than $1 million.

This is so outrageous that it may actually be the impetus for some desperately needed reform, as I suggest in this interview with Neil Cavuto.

But is fraud really a problem? Defenders of the Medicaid entitlement presumably would like us to think that this latest story is just an anomaly.

That would be nice, but the experts who have looked at the issue have come to a much different conclusion.

While food stamp fraud is significant, especially with a record-high 47 million Americans now on food stamps, it pales in comparison to what is stolen from Medicare and Medicaid. …It is widely accepted across the political spectrum that upwards of $100 billion of that amount is fraud and abuse. Recently, a report from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the US House of Representatives outlined many billions of dollars being wasted every year just in New York’s Medicaid program. Grossly inflated payments to intermediate care facilities and excessive salaries were just the tip of the iceberg in a $53 billion program that easily bleeds  more than $10 billion annually to criminals.

So what’s the best way of dealing with the Medicaid mess? Fortunately, we have a simple answer. As I mentioned in the interview, the entire program should be block granted and turned over to the states.

That doesn’t automatically eliminate fraud, but it does create much better incentives for sound governance since state taxpayers would be the ones picking up the tab if a state program is riddled with fraud. Under the current system, by contrast, the cost of waste and malfeasance is spread among taxpayers from all 50 states.

This video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity explains how block grants would work.

One final point to emphasize is that fraud reduction is really just a fringe benefit if we reform Medicaid.

The main reasons to decentralize the program are fiscal sanity and better health care policy.

But the one common thread is that third-party payer facilitates problems, whether we’re looking at excessive costs, health inefficiency, or rampant fraud.

P.S. Don’t forget the other two big entitlements that need reform, Social Security and Medicare. Like Medicaid, Medicare has major challenges with fraud. From what I understand, the retirement portion of Social Security doesn’t have major fraud issues, but the disability program is a huge problem.

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One of my first blog posts, way back in 2009, was about bureaucrats from the Social Security Administration squandering more than $700,000 on a boondoggle conference at a fancy Arizona resort.

To pick a more recent example, taxpayers have plenty of reasons to be upset about IRS bureaucrats partying at their fancy conferences (including line dances, the real message of which is captured by this Lisa Benson cartoon).

The General Services Administration, meanwhile, had a good time on our dime at a posh confab in Las Vegas.

So did revelations about all this waste cause programs, agencies, and departments to be more careful with our tax money? As you can imagine, the answer is a big fat no.

The latest scandal to be unearthed is that “public servants” from a bunch of government agencies have been enjoying fun times in the Caribbean. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Times expose.

A group of federal officials skipped chilly Washington this month for a taxpayer-funded trip to the Virgin Islands in the name of protecting the world’s coral reef. The organizer, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, isn’t saying much about the total cost or reasons for the trip or why officials chose the St. Croix beachfront resort Buccaneer Hotel (made famous by an episode of TV’s “The Bachelor”) as their destination. But life couldn’t have been too bad for the G-men and G-women at the swanky resort, which is surrounded by a lush green golf course and boasts rooms with rates that begin at $323 a night. …topped off with a $74 meal per diem. …In addition to the room rates and food per diems, the various departments were also responsible for providing airfare for attendees. A quick search of travel websites shows that flights from Washington to St. Croix, where the meeting was held, range from $500 to $1,000.

So what was the total cost of this boondoggle? Well, we have no idea.

And this doesn’t even count the fact that many of the bureaucrats got to party at another sun-and-fun conference!

With 11 agencies involved in funding and support for the coral reef task force, it can be difficult to track down just how much is being spent and by whom. Spending records are spread across multiple agencies, with no single record of just how much these meeting might be costing taxpayers. An Interior Department representative said the task force meeting was held in conjunction with a meeting of the Caribbean Regional Planning Body, and many people participated in both.

So let’s think about big picture of what this means for taxpayers.

We know bureaucrats are overpaid.

We know they work fewer hours.

We even know bureaucrats admit to being lazy!

But the real insult to injury is when they get to do fun things at our expense.

Antigua

“If you outlaw cannons, only outlaws will have cannons”

P.S. By coincidence, I happen to be in Antigua while doing this post. I’m a big fan of the Caribbean, so it doesn’t bother me for people to go where there is warm sunshine. I just don’t want them taking trips at my expense.

P.P.S. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t detained at the airport, which happened on my last trip to Antigua.

P.P.P.S. My friend has a real (but non-operable) cannon mounted on one of his terraces. I think I read someplace that it’s legal to own a cannon in the United States, which is part of what makes America a great country. Heck, we’re allowed to own tanks, which is even cooler.

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The politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and interest groups in Washington are hyperventilating that the federal gravy train may get sidetracked for a day or two by a shutdown fight between Republicans and Democrats.

I’m not sure why they’re so agitated. After all, the shutdown is really just a slowdown since only non-essential bureaucrats are sent home. And everyone winds up getting paid for those unplanned vacations, which is why the bureaucrats I know are crossing their fingers for a lengthy confrontation.

But that describes what may happen when the new fiscal year begins tomorrow. What’s been happening in recent days, culminating today, is a feeding frenzy of end-of-the-fiscal-year wasteful spending.

Here are some details from a Washington Post expose.

This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork. In a single day, the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges. And, in a single purchase, the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.” …All week, while Congress fought over next year’s budget, federal workers were immersed in a separate frantic drama. They were trying to spend the rest of this year’s budget before it is too late. …If they don’t, the money becomes worthless to them on Oct. 1. And — even worse — if they fail to spend the money now, Congress could dock their funding in future years. The incentive, as always, is to spend. So they spent.

If you’re a taxpayer, you’ll be especially delighted to know that the “use it or lose it” spending orgy is so intense that federal contractors have to cater lunches for their sales staff. Can’t have them away from their desks, after all!

It was the return of one of Washington’s oldest bad habits: a blitz of expensive decisions, made by agencies with little incentive to save. Private contractors — worried that sequestration would result in a smaller spending rush this year — brought in food to keep salespeople at their desks. Federal workers quizzed harried colleagues in the hallways, asking if they had spent it all yet. …“Use it or lose it” season is not marked on any official government calendars. But in Washington, it is as real as Christmas. And as lucrative. …In 2012, for instance, the government spent $45 billion on contracts in the last week of September, according to calculations by the fiscal-conservative group Public Notice. That was more than any other week — 9 percent of the year’s contract spending money, spent in 2 percent of the year.

The IRS may win the prize for the most egregious example of last-minute waste.

In 2010, for instance, the Internal Revenue Service had millions left over in an account to hire new personnel. The money would expire at year’s end. Its solution was not a smart one. The IRS spent the money on a lavish conference. Which included a “Star Trek” parody video starring IRS managers. Which was filmed on a “Star Trek” set that the IRS paid to build. (Sample dialogue: “We’ve received a distress call from the planet NoTax.”)

But it’s not just tax collectors who flush our money down the toilet in creative ways.

One recent study, for instance, found that information technology contracts signed at year’s end often produced noticeably worse results than those signed in calmer times. …they listed dumb things they had seen bought: three years’ worth of staples. Portable generators that never got used. One said the National Guard bought so much ammunition that firing it all became a chore. “When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem,” an anonymous employee wrote.

Impressive examples of waste, though I confess I’m curious about the part about ammo and the National Guard. Does this mean bullets are like milk and have to be fired before an expiration date?

Beats me, but at least someone in the government acknowledged that (at least up to a point) it’s cool to fire a machine gun. Maybe that person should hook up with the Texas cop who likes tanks.

Oh, and you’ll be happy to know that spendaholic bureaucrats and crafty interest groups keep track of time zones so they can squander money until the very last second.

On Monday, Richer’s people will sell until midnight. Then they will keep selling. “Money rolls across the continent,” the feds say. Cash not spent in Washington might be spent by federal offices in California in the three hours before it is midnight there. When it is midnight in California — 3 a.m. in Washington — they will keep on. There are federal offices in Hawaii, after all. And it will still be three hours until midnight there.

Makes me think that we may need a slogan for the bureaucracy. Perhaps this modification of the Postal Service’s unofficial motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – nor even different time zones – stays these bureaucrats from spending every possible penny of other people’s money.”

But let’s close on an upbeat note. Whether you give credit to the Tea Party, to Republicans, to gridlock, or to Obama, the good news is that the federal government in the past two years has been wasting money at a slower rate.

So taxpayers can smile…or at least not frown as much. The bureaucracy and contractors may be throwing a party today, but not with the same reckless abandon they displayed between 2001 and 2010.

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Notwithstanding the title of this post, I’m not writing about how the government wastes foreign aid money in an attempt to bribe foreign governments into supporting the United States.

Instead, this is a story about how politicians and bureaucrats throw our money down the toilet.

Let’s start by looking at some aggravating and nauseating example of government boondoggles.

Every one of these stories is a disgusting example of how the political class in Washington squanders our money in a frivolous manner, generally in ways that line the pockets of well-connected insiders.

And as you might imagine, every day brings new revelations of waste. The latest boondoggle to catch my eye is from the State Department, which has been pissing away money in an attempt to “buy friends.”

Here’s some of what Foreign Policy reported on this scandal.

…web-savvy State Department employees spent $630,000 to earn more Facebook “likes,” in an effort that struggled to reach its target audience, according to a searing Inspector General’s report… Between 2011 and March 2013, the department’s Bureau of the International Information Programs, tried to boost the seeming popularity of the department’s Facebook properties by advertising and page improvements. But the results weren’t so good… “Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” reads the Inspector General report.

Gee, isn’t this just great. My tax dollars are being flushed down a toilet so some geeks at the State Department could create the illusion that more people liked some propaganda pages.

But we’re talking about government, so let’s not forget mindless duplication.

The IG report stings — especially because the Bureau of International Information and Programs is supposed to be Foggy Bottom’s epicenter of online savvy. …overlap and coordination issues trouble the various bureau’s 150 social media accounts. The report also mentions a “pervasive perception of cronyism” exacerbating its already “serious morale problem.” …Some of the issues are rather tedious, like whether embassy staffers should go to the Office of Web Engagement or the Office of Innovative Engagement for advice on social media.

Perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but why on earth am I paying for an “Office of Web Engagement” and an “Office of Innovative Engagement.” Not only that, but I’m paying for them to squabble over who gets to hold more meetings and produce more memos?!?

Since I’m a peacemaker, I have a very simply solution to that controversy. Let’s abolish both of those worthless parts of the federal behemoth.

Let’s close by looking at the big picture. My leftist friends, when confronted by this boondoggle, or other examples of government waste, have a formulaic response: “You’re fixating on a trivial issue that equals only an infinitesimally small share of the budget,” they say, “entitlements account for the lion’s share of federal spending.”

That’s true, but since they oppose genuine entitlement reform, I’m not sure that point they’re trying to make.

But even if entitlements somehow didn’t exist and the overall fiscal outlook was positive rather than negative, would that justify waste in government?

It’s never a good idea to give more money to the crowd in Washington. They have no incentive to behave in a prudent fashion. Reminds me of these wise words of advice from Milton Friedman.

There are four ways to spend money.

1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why you really watch out for what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.

2. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well then, I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.

3. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m going to have a good lunch!

4. Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it costs, and I’m not concerned about what I get.

And that’s government. And that’s close to 40 percent of our national income.

P.S. But don’t forget that the bloated government Friedman warns us about also is the major source and cause of corruption in Washington.

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I don’t write or speak about education very much, but, when asked, I explain that America has a very costly and inefficient government school monopoly.

Education spending Cato chartThe strongest piece of evidence is an amazing chart put together by a Cato colleague. It shows that education spending has skyrocketed while educational performance has stagnated.

One of my favorite soundbites, when discussing this issue, is that the U.S. spends more per capita than any nation other than Switzerland, but we get very sub-par results for all that money.

According to new data, though, I can no longer make that assertion. I’d like to say it’s because we now get above-average results, but the real reason is because we’ve now surpassed Switzerland to become the biggest spenders on education.

But we still get a crummy return on all that money that is spent.

Here are the key findings from an OECD study, as reported by the AP.

The United States spends more than other developed nations on its students’ education each year… Despite the spending, U.S. students still trail their rivals on international tests. …brand-new and experienced teachers alike in the United States out-earn most of their counterparts around the globe.

Now let’s look at some of the grim details.

…the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the report. That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922… The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person. …The United States routinely trails its rival countries in performances on international exams despite being among the heaviest spenders on education. U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results. The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students, but posting an average score. …The average first-year high school teacher in the United States earns about $38,000. OECD nations pay their comparable educators just more than $31,000. …The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations.

Here’s the chart from the OECD study showing per-student spending.

OECD Education Spending Rankings

So we spend more, pay more to our bureaucrats, yet we get worse results. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the education monopoly.

Oh, by the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are even worse than we think. Check out this Cato video, which reveals that politicians and bureaucrats hide the real cost of their inefficient and wasteful monopoly.

One reason the system is so expensive is that we squander so much money on bureaucratic overhead. But I guess we need all those paper pushers so we can stop little kids from engaging in terrorist behavior.

But you have to give the teacher unions credit for chutzpah. One of the union bosses actually had the gall to ignore the actual findings in the study and to assert that taxpayers aren’t doing enough!

“When people talk about other countries out-educating the United States, it needs to be remembered that those other nations are out-investing us in education as well,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union.

Not that I can blame union bosses and other defenders of the status quo. They’ve got a great scam going, so why not blatantly prevaricate in hopes that the gravy train will continue.

What makes this situation so tragic is that we have strong proof that we could get much better outcomes by shifting to a system of school choice.

But that’s a difficult fight. The teacher unions understandably want to preserve their undeserved privileges. What really irks me, though, is that some people side with the unions for political purposes, even though it means they deliberately sacrifice the best interests of children. That’s a harsh accusation, I realize, but I think it describes both President Obama and the NAACP.

All the more reason to get government out of the education business.

Though this is not just an issue of government inefficiency. Other nations have government-run education systems and they spend less and produce better results.

In a few cases, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, It’s quite likely that school choice helps to explain better outcomes. But what about other nations? Is there something about the American system that makes it especially wasteful?

P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

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I realize this might mean I’m not a very nice person, but I take joy in the sadness of others.

But in my defense, this only happens when the sad people happen to be those who want to steal my money using the coercive power of government. Crocodile TearsOr when bad things happen to the political class.

So you can imagine how happy I am that sleazy lobbyists for the agribusiness crowd are distraught about the rejection of the pork-filled farm bill in the House of Representatives.

Here are some of the details from The Hill, but have your crying towel ready.

K street agriculture lobbyists were stunned Thursday by the House defeat of a $940 billion farm bill and were scrambling to figure out their next move. The bill was widely expected to win approval… “We were shocked. We were watching the vote on TV and in the final minutes were saying ‘what are they doing? This thing isn’t going to pass!’ ” said one commodity group lobbyist. “I’m shocked,” said another lobbyist. “Our job as agriculture is to go to the House and say Mr. Speaker what is your plan for getting this done?” The intense blame game that broke out immediately after the bill was rejected in a 195-234 vote will only make it harder to get a bill over the hump, supporters of the measure said.

Gee, I can barely type with my vision clouded by tears.

In my fantasy world, of course, we abolish the Ag Department, which would enable me to be even happier about the sadness of others.

P.S. I have another reason to be happy. With only a few more days before I reach the advanced age of 55, I managed to hit a ball out of the park at a softball tournament in Salem, Virginia. Courtesy of Google Maps, here’s a reenactment of the glorious event.

Salem Tournament

I did hit one out at a tournament in Virginia Beach last year, but my happiness was undermined when Georgia lost later in the day to South Carolina. Hopefully nothing bad will happen today to offset the illusion that I’m still a young buck.

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What do you do if you’re part of a government bureaucracy that has been caught red-handed engaged in sleazy, corrupt, and (almost surely) illegal targeting of Americans for their political beliefs?

But before you answer, keep in mind that your bureaucracy also has been exposed for wasting huge amounts of money at lavish conferences. What’s the ideal way of dealing with the fallout from that scandal as well?

The answer is simple. Even though you and your pals already are paid more than the peasants in the private sector, give yourself and your cronies giant bonuses!

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

The Internal Revenue Service is about to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite an Obama administration directive to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts enacted this year, according to a GOP senator. …“The IRS always claims to be short on resources,” Grassley said. “But it appears to have $70 million for union bonuses…” Three congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating the targeting of conservative groups. And key Republicans in Congress are promising more scrutiny of the agency’s budget, especially as it ramps up to play a major role in implementing the new health care law.

Sort of makes this cartoon self evident.

IRS Trust Cartoon

Indeed, this motivates me to announce “Mitchell’s First Theorem of Government.”

I’ve explicitly expressed this sentiment in the past, and hinted at it here, here, and here.

Now it’s time to make it official.

Mitchell's First Theorem of Government

I hope you’ll agree this is a nice addition to Mitchell’s Golden Rule, Mitchell’s Bleeding Heart Guide, and Mitchell’s Law.

And maybe one of these will catch on and I can be famous like Art Laffer.

P.S. Enjoy some cartoons about the IRS scandals here, here, and here.

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I’ve shared some outrageous stories about bureaucrats ripping off taxpayers.

So perhaps it is time to create a Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award to honor the parasite who best exemplifies the unofficial SEIU motto of “Better Living on the Taxpayer Teat.”

And I think we already have a very strong candidate for 2013. Ms. Dorothy Dugger certainly has the right skills, working the system to get 19 months of vacation time after being forced out of her position. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Washington Times.

A former official of the Bay Area Rapid Transit raked in more than $333,000 last year without working a single day after she resigned under pressure in May 2011. Dorothy Dugger, the BART’s former general manager, quietly stayed on the payroll, burning off nearly 80 weeks of unused vacation time, drawing paychecks and full benefits for more than 19 months after she agreed to quit more than two years ago, San Jose Mercury News reported.

But that’s only part of the story. Yes, she was grossly overpaid and, yes, she has been bilking the grotesquely lavish fringe benefits system reserved for the bureaucracy.

But she also got a big fat severance package! Sort of a reward she received because she was an incompetent employee who wasn’t properly fired by an incompetent government.

But no worries. Taxpayers are there to smooth everything over.

The months of extra pay were in addition to the $920,000 Ms. Dugger was paid to leave after the BART’s board botched an effort to fire her by violating public meetings laws, San Jose Mercury News reported.

You’ll be happy to know, however, that Ms. Dugger is willing to acknowledge that some people may not be happy about

When asked by the paper if she thought the payout was fair to BART riders, she said: “That’s a fair issue to debate.”

How generous of her to say this is a “fair issue” now that she’s already pocketed all her loot and left “government service.”

But don’t forget that there are millions of other bureaucrats still on the payroll, earning more than us while working less than us.

And while Ms. Dugger has some impressive credentials for the Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award, she does face some stiff competition. John Geary, for instance, used his job as a welfare bureaucrat to perpetrate a welfare-for-sex scam. And Susan Muranishi managed to snag a guaranteed yearly payment of $423,664 for the rest of her life.

We pay, they play.

P.S. Let’s be thankful we’re not Denmark.

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Here’s another entry for our UK vs US Government Stupidity Contest. Or perhaps it belongs in the great-moments-in-government-waste category.

The spendaholics in Washington have squandered $400,000 on underwear that detects cigarette smoke.

I’m not joking. Here are some details from CNS.

Coming Soon to Victoria's Secret: Trendy and Sexy Government-Funded Underwear

Coming Soon to Victoria’s Secret: Trendy and Sexy Government-Funded Underwear

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than $400,000 to a research project involving underwear that can detect when a person smokes cigarettes. …the project…so far has produced a “very early prototype” of the monitoring system, which — in its current state — fits like a vest. …“The modern methods of monitoring smoking, primarily you rely on self-report,” said Dr. Edward Sazonov, an associate professor at the University of Alabama… The PACT Sazonov created is a “very early prototype,” that fits like a vest with multiple straps and wires, far from the “non-invasive, wearable” underwear the project developers had in mind. “It’s not very user friendly,” Sazonov said.

And it’s definitely not taxpayer friendly either.

Why is Uncle Sam wasting $400,000-plus on ugly and clunky underwear? The excuse for this boondoggle is that it will help monitor whether people smoke.

I fail to see how this would promote smoking cessation. I assume 99.99 percent of smokers are aware that they smoke.

Or are we going to have some sort of nanny-state program with the government forcing people to wear the underwear so the snoops in DC can monitor our private lives.

But even if that type of intrusive system would work, why is smoking any business of the federal government? It’s certainly not one of the enumerated powers in Article I, Section VIII.

This is yet another reason why there shouldn’t be any discussion of tax increases. Any government that has $400,000 to spend on a cigarette vest obviously has far too much money on its hands.

P.S. An odious and ridiculous subset of the UK-US Stupidity Contest is anti-gun political correctness. You can read absurd examples here.

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National defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the military should get a blank check to spend unlimited amounts of money.

To make sure taxpayers get the best bang for the buck (no pun intended), there should be a sober assessment of threats to national security and a plan to defend against those threats without adding superfluous expenditures.

That being said, America already accounts for close to 50 percent of world military spending, with another 25 percent of the global total coming from nations that are allied to the United States, so I’m fairly confident that we’re not under-spending on the Pentagon.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t worry that much about the sequester, particularly since military spending actually climbs by about $100 billion over the next 10 years.

But I would like the Defense Department to have some flexibility to reallocate funds so that we spend money on national security rather than boondoggles.

And there are some absurd examples of waste at the Pentagon, including “green” jet fuel that costs 15 times as much as regular fuel. Here are some of the mind-boggling details from the Washington Examiner.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently warned that sequestration would cause “suspension of important activities, curtailed training, and could result in furloughs of civilian personnel” but the spending cuts haven’t killed the green fuels program, as the Pentagon has continued purchasing renewable fuel at $59 per gallon. “In March, Gevo entered into a contract with the Defense Logistics Agency to supply the U.S. Army with 3,650 gallons of renewable jet fuel to be delivered by the second quarter of 2013,” Gevo announced this week in its first quarter financial report. “This initial order may be increased by 12,500 gallons.

This is even worse than the bizarre $600,000 frog statue than the Defense Department selected to adorn a new $700 million office building.

Military Frog SculptureI realize that the $700 million office building should be the bigger issue, but I can’t help but be irked by the thought that taxpayers are being raped and pillaged for the frog.

In any event, the $700 million for the office building is pocket change compared to the amount of money we misallocate to subsidize Western Europe to protect against a Warsaw Pact military alliance that no longer exists!

Yes, it’s true that America’s main fiscal problem is entitlement spending. And, yes, domestic discretionary spending is a bigger problem than the defense budget.

But wasting money in those areas is not a reason to also have waste at the Pentagon.

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I periodically compare the actions of brainless politicians and bureaucrats in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

One of the most bizarre examples I cited was from England. It showed how a local government decided to install the most pointless sign in the history of the world.

Our British friends are famous for their sense of humor (as illustrated by this glossary of financial terms and this guide to terror alerts in selected nations), so perhaps the sign was meant to be a joke.

Nonetheless, taxpayers picked up the tab.

And now we have another example of incomprehensible government stupidity. Taxpayers in one community just paid to have road markings painted in an alleyway.

I’m not kidding. Check out the photo and this excerpt from a BBC report.

Lines have been painted on both sides of the passageway, off Newhall Street in Swindon, leaving a gap of just 13in (33cm). Nathalie Fisher, a local resident, said it was a “bit of a mystery” as “you couldn’t even fit a motorbike down it.” …The council said local residents had asked the authority to “deal with illegal parking in alleyways”.

Gee, I hope the guy in the picture is being careful. He may get a traffic ticket since his left foot is almost on the double yellow line.

To be sure, I’m not sure this story means that U.K. government official are worse than U.S. government officials. Just look at some of these examples of PC-run-amok and you’ll have plenty of evidence of foolishness on this side of the Atlantic.

The moral of the story is that bureaucrats and politicians want to run our lives, but they’re some of the world’s least competent people.

P.S. While it’s amusing to highlight examples of government stupidity, let’s not forget there are real-life victims of bad government policy in the United Kingdom, particularly if you look at the healthcare system and welfare system.

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Remember the Spending Quiz from 2010, which asked people to guess whether absurd examples of government waste were true or false?

Well, we have a new video on government waste, though bureaucrats and politicians have become so profligate it doesn’t even bother to trick people with fake examples.

While very well done, I do have two small complaints about the video.

First, it asks whether we should cut spending or raise taxes to deal with the national debt. I think that’s too narrow. We shouldn’t be wasting money even if the budget was balanced and there wasn’t a penny of debt.

In other words, the problem isn’t deficits. Red ink is just a symptom. The real problem is that government is too big.

Second, the video sort of acquiesces to the dishonest Washington terminology by asking whether we should cut spending or raise taxes, implying those are the only two options. I favor genuine spending cuts, of course, but the most accurate way of phrasing the question is to ask whether we should cut spending, restrain spending, or let government grow on auto-pilot.

As I explained earlier this year, we can balance the budget in just 10 years if spending grows “only” 3.4 percent per year. When people understand that detail, there’s almost no support for higher taxes.

But I’m nitpicking. Overall, a very good video.

P.S. If the examples of pork-barrel spending in the video get you angry, you’ll probably have a stroke if you also watch the waste video from the folks at Government Gone Wild.

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Taxpayers all across America send lots of money to Washington, DC, in part because we’re supposed to believe that redistribution is a legitimate and desirable function of the federal government.

But this is a very perverse form of redistribution. All that money going to Washington helps subsidize a network of overpaid bureaucrats, fat-cat lobbyists, corrupt politicians, and well-heeled interest groups.

Indeed, as shown in this map, 10 of the 15 richest counties in the country are in the Washington metropolitan area.

One of those wealthy areas is Arlington County, VA, just across the river from Washington. Home to thousands of federal bureaucrats and other DC insiders, Arlington is similar to Washington in that there is a lot of wasteful spending. Sort of makes you wonder if local bureaucrats and federal bureaucrats ever meet at bars after work and brag about who wasted the most money that day?

Anyhow, here are some sordid details from a Washington Post story.

A wall made of etched glass opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping. Embedded in the floor are heating elements intended to ward off the cold weather and keep winter-weary feet cozy. …And the price tag: $1 million. “Is this made of gold?” asked commuter Yohannes Kaleab, examining the concrete-and-stainless-steel bench that is part of the new, seven-figure bus shelter. “What?” asked Robin Stewart as he learned of the cost of the structure while waiting for a bus there last week. “That’s ridiculous. From a citizen, from a voter, whoever put that budget through needs to get their butt canned. It’s an outrage.” The “super stop,” which opened March 11, is the first of 24 new bus stops that will also accommodate Arlington’s long-planned streetcars. …It will shelter 15 people at a time.

Boondoggle Bus Stop

$1 million for this bit of glass, metal, and concrete?!?

That sounds kind of expensive, but we can be comforted by the fact that thoughtful public servants predict future savings.

“When you do a prototype, you end up heavily front-loading on the costs,” said Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director.

So how much will taxpayers save on the remaining 23 stops? Well, the good news is that they won’t cost $1 million each. The bad news is that the government doesn’t exactly save a lot of money when doing bulk purchases.

“Our goal if at all possible is to do it for less,” Leach said. The county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.

Gee, knock me over with a feather. The additional bus stops will “only” be $904,000!

That’s not counting cost overruns, which are an inevitable reality with government budgeting, so I think it’s safe to assume that the final cost will be far higher.

So why do governments waste money like this?

Part of the answer, of course, is that politicians are inherently wasteful. But there’s another factor at play. Politicians are especially wasteful when they can spend money that isn’t collected from their own taxpayers.

And readers from other parts of America doubtlessly will be overjoyed to learn that their paying for a big chunk of this boondoggle.

Federal and state transportation money paid 80 percent of the costs.

With taxpayers outside of Arlington paying such a high share of the cost, we should think of ourselves as lucky that the bus stop didn’t cost $10 million!

But here’s the most amazing part of the story.

What’s the most important part of a bus stop? In theory, a bus stop can be nothing more than a sign indicating the spot where you should wait for a bus.

But if you’re going to build a structure, the most valuable feature – at least from the perspective of riders – is that you will be protected from the weather. So what sort of protection are riders getting as a result of this $1 million boondoggle? Meh, not so much.

…the bus shelter is “pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain, I’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold, the wind is going to be blowing on me. It doesn’t seem to be a shelter. It doesn’t really shelter you very much . . . you can get pretty soaked in two minutes.” Her opinion was shared by some on Columbia Pike trying it out.

Gee, isn’t this wonderful. Some contractors doubtlessly lined their pockets building this white elephant. Some consultants doubtlessly fattened their bank accounts with all the nonsense that is now part of the “planning” process.

But taxpayers, as usual, got the short end of the stick. They got taken for a ride, figuratively. And if they actually use the bus stop, they can get taken for a ride, literally, so long as they don’t mind getting wet.

P.S. And let’s not forget that Obama wants some more class-warfare tax hikes to finance more of this “investment.”

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I was asked last week which entitlement program is most deserving of reform.

While acknowledging that Social Security and Medicare also are in desperate need of modernization, I wrote that Medicaid reform should be the first priority.

But I’d be happy if we made progress on any type of entitlement reform, so I don’t think there are right or wrong answers to this kind of question.

We have the same type of question this week. A reader sent an email to ask “Which federal department should be abolished first?”

I guess this is what is meant when people talk about a target-rich environment.

We have an abundance of candidates, including the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, etc.

But if I have to choose, I think the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be first on the chopping block.

Raze the building and put a layer of salt over the earth to make sure it can never spring back to life

I’ve already argued that there should be no federal government involvement in the housing sector and made the same argument on TV. And I’ve also shared some horror stories about HUD waste and incompetence.

Heck, I even made HUD the background image for my video on the bloated and overpaid bureaucracy in Washington.

It’s also worth noting that there’s nothing about housing in Article I, Section VIII, of the Constitution. For those of us who have old-fashioned values about playing by the rules, that means much of what takes place in Washington – including housing handouts – is unconstitutional.

Simply stated, there is no legitimate argument for HUD. And I think there would be the least political resistance.

As with the answer to the question about entitlements, this is a judgment call. I’d be happy to be proven wrong if it meant that politicians were aggressively going after another department. Anything that reduces the burden of government spending is a step in the right direction.

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A regular feature on this blog is the government-stupidity contest between bureaucrats and politicians from the United States and the United Kingdom.

You can click here to peruse some of the most outrageous examples, including a couple of contestants from the private sector.

This has been a nip-and-tuck race for a long time, but the United Kingdom recently jumped into the lead with two jaw-dropping examples of moronic government behavior.

First, British bureaucrats took some kids away from their foster family because the parents didn’t believe in unlimited immigration, and, second, the U.K. government created a subsidy program that was so convoluted that not one single household in the entire country signed up for the goodies.

You know you’ve reached a special level of incompetence when a government is so bloody stupid that it can’t even give away money.

I was beginning to think the United States was doomed to also-ran status in this race.

But I should have known better. When it comes to finding creative ways to piss away other people’s money and make bone-headed choices, American politicians and bureaucrats are ready to meet the challenge.

This isn’t empty patriotism on my part. For proof, check out this Washington Examiner story about the federal government sending bureaucrats to a posh, $1,000-per-person conference, where they learned…I’m not making this up…how to respond to zombie attacks.

“Give…me…your…wallet”

When zombies attack, the Department of Homeland Security will be prepared. …money from the DHS’s Urban Areas Security Initiative went to buy snow cone machines in Michigan. Places like Fargo, N.D., and Keene, N.H., now have armored vehicles at their disposal, as do many other small towns. Keene said the vehicle was needed to protect its annual Pumpkin Festival. Arizona used $90,000 in DHS funding to install a video monitoring system at the Peoria Sports Complex, because apparently it is in the taxpayers’ interest to monitor the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres during spring training. …But if you think that’s waste, you need to know about the extraordinary training that the DHS was able to provide to first responders this year. They made attendance at the HALO Corp.’s 2012 Counter-Terrorism Summit an allowable expense for federal grant money. Yes, the California-based security company’s five-day event was held at a posh island resort and spa just outside of San Diego and cost $1,000 per person to attend, but that’s not even the best part. The showpiece event of the summit made was a live war game of a zombie apocalypse, complete with 40 actors in full zombie makeup as well as “state-of-the-art structure, pyrotechnic battlefield effects, medical special effects, vehicles and blank-firing weapons” according to a promotional video by HALO President Brad Barker. This enabled first responders to participate in a real-life “Dawn of the Dead” scenario and to know precisely what to do when their neighbors start trying to eat their human flesh.

As the Boy Scouts say, it’s best to “be prepared.” And thanks to federal tax dollars, the Department of Homeland Security is ready to defend us from a zombie attack.

I’m basically at a loss for words. Is anybody minding the store back in DC?

“Must…waste…more…money”

Why did this federal contractor think this was a good idea? Why did the Department of Homeland Security think it should be an allowable expense? Why did bureaucrats think it was a worthwhile way of spending their time?

There are no good answers – other than the fact that folks are far more likely to be frivolous and wasteful when they’re spending other people’s money. And that applies to the other examples cited in the excerpt above.

An armored vehicle to protect a pumpkin festival?!? If the taxpayers of Keene, NH, actually think the Canadians are about to sneak over the border and swipe some pumpkins, they should kick in a few bucks and hire an extra cop.

But so long as the kleptomaniacs in Washington are giving away our money, local governments have every reason to dream up ridiculous wish-lists.

No wonder the burden of government spending has reached record levels.

P.S. Don’t forget that the Department of Homeland Security was created during the Bush years. Another black mark on that statist period.

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I agree with George Will that it’s okay to reduce Pentagon spending. After all, the United States accounts for almost one-half of the world’s military outlays, about twice as much as the combined total of possible enemies.

But I also agree that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, so I want to make sure we get the most bang for the buck (no pun intended) from every penny.

That’s why I get especially irritated when I read horror stories about Pentagon waste.

But in many cases, it’s not the fault of the Generals and Admirals. America’s military is forced to waste money because the politicians in Washington are motivated by cronyism, corruption, pork, and political correctness.

For example, let’s look at an excerpt from a column in the Washington Examiner.

Imagine you’re a legislator in a country with a bloated budget of almost $4 trillion and a record level of spending that requires massive deficits and could mean job-killing tax increases. Now imagine you’ve got a weapons program that is billions over budget, a decade behind schedule and unwanted even by those for whom it is intended. What would you do? If you said, “Earmark the program another $380 million,” you’re apparently qualified to serve on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. The weapons program is the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a joint venture with Germany and Italy that was zeroed out by three of four relevant congressional funding authorities. But the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense decided the program was worth a $380 million earmark, and the full committee passed the final bill along with a unanimous vote.

I’m not an expert on weapons systems. Heck, I know less about such matters than Obama’s cabinet knows about the economy. But it certainly seems foolish to throw good money after bad on a program that doesn’t work. Especially when the military doesn’t want it!

And here are a couple of sentences from a Forbes column about part of the military budget being diverted to subsidize solar power.

EPA regional headquarters?

The U.S. Army is looking for a few good renewable energy projects. Some $7 billion worth. On Tuesday the Army began accepting bids for green energy installations that will be deployed on military bases and facilities across the U.S. The Army will sign contracts to buy the electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects for up to 30 years. …The program is part of a Department of Defense initiative to meet at least 25% of energy demand on its bases from renewable sources by 2025. The military is also aiming its bases to become “net zero” consumers of electricity – generating more power than they use by installing solar and other renewable energy systems.

Silly me. I thought the Pentagon was responsible for keeping the nation safe. I guess I missed the memo where it was tasked with being a tool for the green agenda.

These examples doubtlessly are just the tip of the iceberg. Politicians can’t resist turning anything they touch into a vehicle for graft, waste, and foolishness.

To be sure, there are also big picture issues of national security that have to be resolved. Is NATO now an anachronism, as Steve Chapman persuasively argues? Is overseas intervention a pointless exercise, as Mark Steyn explains?

But whatever the mission, the Pentagon’s ability to carry it out is compromised when politicians treat the military budget like a goodie bag.

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I’ve been against the auto bailout from the very beginning because it was a corrupt payoff to lazy corporate fat-cats and an ossified union.

And when folks on the left say the bailout is a success, I explain that any industry can be propped up with a sufficiently large injection of other people’s money.

Now we have new data on how much “other people’s money” has been diverted. It’s a big number, and it seems to get bigger each time there’s a new estimate. Here’s part of a Reuters report.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said the auto industry bailout will cost taxpayers $3.4 billion more than previously thought. Treasury now estimates the 2009 bailout will eventually cost the government $25.1 billion, according to a report sent to Congress on Friday. That is up from the last quarterly estimate of $21.7 billion.

Sort of reminds me of the old joke about the lousy businessman who says he loses money on every sale, but he makes up for it with high volume.

Well, that incompetent businessman has a kindred spirit in the White House. Here’s some of what Politico reported.

President Obama, while villifying Mitt Romney for opposing the auto industry bailout, bragged about the success of his decision to provide government assistance… he said. “Now I want to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs, not just in the auto industry, but in every industry…”

Well, we can’t say we haven’t been warned. He wants to do the same thing in “every industry.” Well, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, there are 60 industries in America. At $25 billion each, that means $1.5 trillion.

Stimulus in action

By the way, Mickey Kaus explains that the government’s numbers are incomplete and that the actual damage is significantly higher. And this Reason TV video exposes some of the government’s chicanery.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some satire, here’s a bailout form showing how you can become a deadbeat and mooch off the government.

P.P.S. Just in case you’re new to this blog and don’t know my history, rest assured that I’m also against Wall Street bailouts.

P.P.P.S. Ethical people should boycott GM and Chrysler, particularly since these companies are now handmaidens of big government.

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The burden of federal spending in the United States was down to 18.2 percent of gross domestic product when Bill Clinton left office.

But this progress didn’t last long. Thanks to George Bush’s reckless spending policies, the federal budget grew about twice as fast as the economy, jumping by nearly 90 percent in just eight years This pushed federal spending up to about 25 percent of GDP.

President Obama promised hope and change, but he has kept spending at this high level rather than undoing the mistakes of his predecessor.

This new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation uses examples of waste, fraud, and abuse to highlight President Obama’s failed fiscal policy.

Good stuff, though the video actually understates the indictment against Obama. There is no mention, for instance, about all the new spending for Obamacare that will begin to take effect over the next few years.

But not everything can be covered in a 5-minute video. And I suspect the video is more effective because it closes instead with some discussion of the corrupt insider dealing of Obama’s so-called green energy programs.

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Every time some class-warfare Democrat or Charlie Brown Republican says we need higher taxes, I think of all the ways the government wastes money and I get angry because the political elite is ripping off the American people.

Should we send more money to Washington when the federal government is:

And those are just examples of nickel-and-dime programs. The bigger outrage is that politicians have created costly, inefficient, and bankrupt entitlement programs that threaten our fiscal future.

But the small examples have symbolic value, and now I have something new to add to the list. The idiots at the State Department thought it was just fine and dandy to pay 35 times the market price for some Kindles.

“Hey, let’s stimulate the economy by paying 35 times the retail price!”

IPads are too fancy, Nooks aren’t fancy enough, but Kindles are just right for teaching English, the State Department thinks, which is why it bought 2,500 of them from Amazon in a $16.5 million no-bid contract, NextGov’s Dawn Lim reports. That works out to $6,600 per Kindle Touch — a lot more than the $189 retail price. The plan, according to Kim, is to send the e-readers to “designated libraries and U.S.-friendly educational centers around the world.”

Since your paying for this ripoff, you might be a tad bit irritated. But that’s only because you’re an unsophisticated taxpayer. According to PR hacks, we really are getting a good deal because of all the extras in the agreement. Put down your coffee or soda before reading this passage from the report because I don’t want to be responsible for liquid on your computer screen.

Amazon is responsible for shipping the Kindles, providing 24-7 customer service, sharing data on how the Kindles are used to access content and pushing serialized content to the Kindles regularly. Amazon is also responsible for disabling “standard features, as as [sic.] requested by DoS, for the device such as individual purchasing ability.”

Wow, free shipping. That’s worth a lot. And the customer service surely adds a couple of bucks per unit, not to mention the extra pennies it must cost to disable features and provide electronic updates.

But let’s not be too hard on clueless bureaucrats. Maybe they just don’t understand high tech. After all, moronic government officials paid more than $22,000 each for big institutional Internet routers hooked up to just a handful of computers.

It’s almost enough to make you think government spending is the problem rather than the solution.

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It’s not easy being a libertarian, especially if your job is to convince the looters and moochers in Washington that they should stop pilfering. The Cato Institute is a great place to work, to be sure, but my job is akin to standing outside an all-you-can-eat buffet and trying to convince the bloated patrons to munch on celery stalks instead of going in for a 3-hour binge.

To add insult to injury, almost all of my personal interactions with government are unpleasant.

But even during my off hours, the annoying presence of government seems to follow me around. Driving back and forth to softball games this past weekend, I was irked that the radio was filled with vapid taxpayer-financed ads from fatherhood.gov and letsmove.gov.

The government apparently has so much money to burn that these empty bits of proselytizing were on conservative talk radio programs!

Now we have a new outrage to add to the list. President Obama is using $20 million of our money so a firm of PR hacks can promote Obamacare.

The Health and Human Services Department has signed a $20 million contract with a public-relations firm to highlight part of the Affordable Care Act. The new, multimedia ad campaign is designed to educate the public about how to stay healthy and prevent illnesses, an HHS official said. …The PR firm Porter Novelli won the…$20 million contract… Porter Novelli did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because the thugs at the IRS recently decided to squander $15 million on a contract to show the tax agency’s warm and fuzzy side. Interestingly, the same Porter Novelli firm got that contract, so they must specialize in sucking on the public teat. What a bunch of reprehensible leeches.

I’m sure there are many other examples of taxpayer-funded propaganda, though the only other two episodes that I recall writing about were the Census Bureau’s grotesque $2.5 million ad during the Super Bowl and dishonest television ads by Government Motors.

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Most of my work on government stimulus focuses on economic theory and evidence.

But every so often it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the ridiculous ways that government wastes money.

Here are some details from a boondoggle in West Virginia.

Nobody told Hurricane librarian Rebecca Elliot that the $22,600 Internet router in the branch library’s storage closet was powerful enough to serve an entire college campus. Nobody told Elliot how much the router cost or who paid for it. Workers just showed up and installed the device. They left behind no instructions, no user manual. The high-end router serves four public computer terminals at the small library in Putnam County. …The state of West Virginia is using $24 million in federal economic stimulus money to put high-powered Internet computer routers in small libraries, elementary schools and health clinics, even though the pricey equipment is designed to serve major research universities, medical centers and large corporations, a Gazette-Mail investigation has found. …The Cisco 3945 series routers, which cost $22,600 each, are built to serve “tens of thousands” of users or device connections, according to a Cisco sales agent. The routers are designed to serve a minimum of 500 users. Yet state broadband project officials directed the installation of the stimulus-funded Cisco routers in West Virginia schools with fewer than a dozen computers and libraries that have only a single terminal for patrons.

Sounds like the government could have bought every user a laptop and squandered less money.

It’s important to realize that this type of boondoggle is the rule, not the exception. Every so often, we see stories about absurd waste, such as the $423,000 study to find out that men don’t like to wear condoms, the Pentagon spending $900 on a $7 control switch, or a $100,000 library grant to a city without a library.

We should get upset about these examples. But remember that the second cartoon in this post is exactly right. The waste, fraud, and pork that we find out about is dwarfed by what remains hidden.

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I’ve explained before that “high-speed rail” is a boondoggle, and I’ve also posted a thorough presentation on the topic from the folks at Reason about this issue.

But some politicians can’t resist throwing good money after bad on these money-losing schemes. The latest example is from the People’s Republic of California, where Governor Jerry Brown is acting as if he wants the state to become a basket case.

Here are some passages from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the topic.

The good news in this debacle is that the state’s fiscal woes will make it nearly impossible to complete Governor Jerry Brown’s runaway high-speed rail train. The bad news is that the Governor is going to try anyway. Transportation experts warn that the 500-mile bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles could cost more than $100 billion, though the Governor pegs the price at a mere $68 billion. The state has $12.3 billion in pocket, $9 billion from the state and $3.3 billion from the feds, but Mr. Brown hasn’t a clue where he’ll get the rest. …In 2008 voters approved $9 billion in bonds for construction under the pretense that the train would cost only $33 billion and be financed primarily by the federal government and private enterprise. Investors, however, won’t put up any money because the rail authority’s business plans are too risky. Rail companies have refused to operate the train without a revenue guarantee, which the ballot initiative prohibits. Even contractors are declining to bid on the project because they’re worried they won’t get paid. Mr. Brown is hoping that Washington will pony up more than $50 billion, but the feds have committed only $3.3 billion so far—and Republicans intend to claw it back if they take the Senate and White House this fall. If that happens, the state won’t have enough money to complete its first 130-mile segment in the lightly populated Central Valley, which in any event wouldn’t be operable since the state can’t afford to electrify the tracks. …Mr. Brown and the White House are betting that the state will be in far too deep when the money runs out to abandon this mission on Camino Unreal. The Governor also figures that the $100 billion bill will seem smaller spread out over 30 years. What’s an extra $3 billion a year when the state’s already $16 billion in the hole?

The uncharitable part of me is thinking “Good, these morons are getting exactly what they deserve since voters were foolish enough to approve the 2008 referendum.”

But even though I think there is a value in having bad examples (whether cities or countries), it is tragic to see a beautiful state destroyed by reckless politicians and their big-government schemes.

I wrote that year that the last job creator to leave California should make sure to turn off the lights. I doubt that will be necessary since the electrical system probably will have failed by that time.

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Two years ago, I posted a mildly inappropriate photo of an old guy protesting Obama’s faux stimulus.

I should have realized that no amount of satire can match the real-world stupidity of government. Here are some details, courtesy of an NBC station, about some squalid waste.

The NBC Investigative Unit has raised questions about two grants totaling nearly $1.5 million dollars distributed to the University of California San Francisco. The money was part of the federal stimulus program and went to studies into the erectile dysfunction of overweight middle aged men and the accurate reporting of someone’s sexual history. …According to the grant, a good portion of the study will “Improve the accuracy of responses to questions,” specifically questions about a person’s sexual behavior. …The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit discovered that for $1.2 million dollars, taxpayers funded a study that included 200 videotaped interviews at $6000 per interview. …Kovaleski then asked about jobs. “How many jobs did this $1.26 million dollars create?” “Well I can’t really say,” Sheehy said. “There were eleven researchers hired on the job, two consultants. Well I can’t say. This has not been evaluated for job creation.” The number Sheehy quoted during an interview with NBC Bay Area did not match information on recovery.gov, the government’s website for stimulus funds. According to the site, the grant produced 0.85 jobs. “It does make you scratch your head and wonder,” Amey said, “Wait a second taxpayer dollars went to a sex study that barely funded less than one person.”

I realize government spending is inherently wasteful, but even I’m shocked. Does it really cost $6,000 to interview someone?!?

Heck, I’ll interview overweight middle-aged men about erectile dysfunction and only charge $5,000 a pop. Actually, I don’t think I could do that without throwing up. Not because of the stories from the old guys, which probably wouldn’t be pleasant, but because I don’t believe in using the coercive power of government to steal from fellow Americans.

This may be even more absurd than the Social Security Administration giving disability payments to a 30-year old man because he wanted to wear diapers and live as an “adult baby.”

But I still think the all-time silliest waste of taxpayer money comes from Greece, where the bureaucracy demands stool samples from entrepreneurs who apply to set up online companies.

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One of my first blog posts back in 2009 featured a column about the Social Security Administration squandering $750,000 on a “conference” at a fancy golf resort in Arizona.

This is why I’m not surprised the GSA pissed away a lot of money at a Las Vegas resort. This is what people do when they spend other people’s money. Heck, this cartoon shows it better than I can say it.

Here’s a small sampling of similar outrages.

The bureaucrats involved in all these outrages should be fired, or perhaps even charged with crimes such as malfeasance, but this cartoon reminds us that the real problem is the political class which appropriates the money that is then wasted by bureaucracies.

This cartoon was authored by Michael Ramirez, and you may know he is one of my favorites. To understand why,  see here, here, here, hereherehere, here, and here.

And this cartoon reminds us that every dollar of waste that gets publicized is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not familiar with Steve Breen, but he does lots of work like this, I’m sure I’ll be featuring more of his cartoons.

Thinking about all this waste, fraud, and abuse is a bit depressing, so let’s try to feel better by thinking about the ways that foreign governments squander taxpayer money, such as the UK government funding sex trips to Amsterdam, the Greek government rewarding pedophiles with disability handouts,  or the European Commission financing penile implants for senior politicians and bureaucrats.

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I sometimes get accused of being too libertarian. One leftist blogger even said my views are insane.

So I decided to show my open-mindedness by finding a way to praise big government. It took a bit of head scratching, but I think I discovered something that is impressive, sort of.

As you can see in this chart prepared by the Republican Study Committee, the federal government is remarkably effective at wasting money with duplication and featherbedding.

But I don’t want to be chintzy in my praise of the federal government. If you look at the areas where there is the most duplication and waste, you’ll find programs for energy, housing, and education – all of which are areas where the Constitution does not authorize spending and intervention by the federal government. So let’s also praise the politicians in Washington for their agility in sidestepping the system set up by the Founding Fathers!

And let’s not be shy about crediting the political elite for shoulder-to-the-grindstone diligence. It takes a certain dedication – or something like that – to continue to pour money into these programs when all the evidence suggests federal involvement in education has undermined outcomes, that federal housing programs helped cause the financial crisis, and that federal energy programs have become cesspools for cronyism.

I know I’m guilty of sometime posting absurd examples of government stupidity. I hope today’s post shows that I’m capable of looking at the positive side of government.

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The overwhelming fiscal policy challenge for America is entitlement programs, as I explain in this set of videos. To protect America from becoming another Greece, we need personal retirement accounts for Social Security. We need vouchers for Medicare. And we need to block-grant Medicaid back to the states.

Real reform can give people more security and save taxpayers by reducing the burden of government spending by trillions of dollars over the next several decades.

But sometimes it is the comparatively tiny bits of spending that effectively illustrate the waste, stupidity, and venality of big government. Lets talk about how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is squandering $15 million in a way that should drive taxpayers ballistic with rage.

Here are some disturbing details from the Wall Street Journal report.

The nation’s tax collector wants a “full service communications and marketing company” to help convey its “corporate vision and goals,” according to a 49-page solicitation sent to 12 agencies. The winner’s duties could include market research, educating the public about new tax provisions, and designing national information campaigns. The one-year contract could be extended for four more years, with a total value of as much as $15 million, the IRS solicitation says. PR firm Porter Novelli has had the contract for four years, but it reached the $17.5 million limit, IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. …The IRS has relied on Porter Novelli to help inform taxpayers about some new laws and programs. Porter Novelli confirmed that the firm works with the IRS, but declined to comment further. Public relations experts said it would be an attractive challenge, given the agency’s unpopularity. …PR types said it’s technically possible to think of tougher marketing challenges — but not many. “Advancing the interests of the North Korean leadership at the moment would be harder than the IRS,” suggested Matthew Harrington.

Isn’t it wonderful that the IRS isn’t as despised as the North Korean dictatorship! I guess that’s because the North Korean government will sometimes kill you or starve you to death. The IRS, by contrast, only steals your money and occasionally gets you tossed in prison.

To show that I’m a public-spirited person, I’m going to save taxpayers $15 million by giving the IRS two good pieces of advice.

1) Obey the Constitution, which means respecting the presumption of innocence and following the Fourth Amendment’s guidelines about illegal search and seizure. I realize that complicates the job of enforcing a terrible tax code, but the Constitution exists precisely because the Founding Fathers thought some things were more important than “efficient” government.

2) Urge your overseers in the U.S. Congress to junk the internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax. The video below provides a simple explanation.

See how simple that was. No need to throw $15 million down the toilet of some politically connected PR firm.

Enjoy the video.

And here’s another video documenting the onerous compliance burden of the current system and explaining how that flat tax would de-fang the IRS.

Seems like such a good idea that only people who benefit from the current system would be opposed. Unfortunately, that describes the political class, upon which we’re relying to get such reforms.

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While I’m obviously not a fan of big government, I have mixed feelings about why the public sector is so blindly wasteful.

Is it because politicians and bureaucrats are well-intentioned morons who accidentally do damage (as illustrated by this cartoon), or is it that they are venal vultures looking to grab as much loot as possible before the house of cards comes crashing down (powerfully demonstrated by this example)?

The answer is probably a combination, so the real challenge is figuring out whether specific examples of government stupidity fall into one category or another.

Let’s look at three recent examples.

First, we have a story from the surveillance state known as the United Kingdom.

On a cold, dark night on the mean streets of the UK, an undercover police officer was radioed and informed that a potential suspect was close by. Keen to do the right thing, he set off in hot pursuit. Twenty fraught minutes later, he learned he’d been chasing… himself. The CCTV operator reported to police that someone was ‘acting suspiciously’, according to The Telegraph. Unfortunately, the officer who decided to follow up on the report was actually the shadowy figure in question. …The poor guy doing the chasing reassured the CCTV operator that he was “hot on the heels” of the suspect. Uh, at least until the police officer’s boss turned up in the CCTV control room and recognized him.

This definitely falls into the incompetence and stupidity category. Why didn’t the camera operator figure our that there was only one person on the screen. Then again, I once spent a minute or so looking in my bedroom for a cell phone that I was holding in my left hand, so I don’t want to be overly judgmental.

So let’s look at another case of government in action. Indeed, this could become the start of a new TV program: The Fart Police.

Harold Wayne Hadley, Jr., 19, was arrested at a Mississippi junior college after he allegedly wrote a note on a piece of toilet paper on Tuesday, containing the word ‘bomb,’ according to Weirdnews.net. The note prompted 11 emergency agencies to respond to the school, but there was no bomb. Hadley and his family contend that he was only explaining the joy of flatulating in the library. “He was in the restroom doodling on some toilet paper … we are from the country, and he calls passing gas, bombs,” said Hadley’s aunt, who wouldn’t give her name to WDAM. “[He] put ‘I passed a bomb in the library,’ talking about passing gas, and somebody came in and found it, gave it to a teacher that recognized his hand writing and it blew all out of proportion.” …Hadley was arrested and held on $20,000 bail. If convicted of threatening to blow up the school, he faces 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine,according to WAPT.

Part of me wants to forgive this example of government excess. After all, we live in a post-Columbine world and I suppose schools have to plan for the worst in case they have unstable Anthony-Weiner-type students.

But then I notice two things in the story that set off alarm bells, beginning with the fact that 11 government agencies responded. If that doesn’t tell you right away that we have too many government bureaucracies and too many bureaucrats with nothing to do, then you must be in a coma.

The other thing I noticed is that a teacher recognized the student’s handwriting. So if that was true, why didn’t someone contact the student before going nuclear on the situation?

Last but not least, let’s look at an example of government misbehavior that defies description.

[A] West Hoke Elementary School student was in her More at Four classroom when a state agent who was inspecting lunch boxes decided that her packed lunch — which consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips — “did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines,” the Journal reports. The decision was made under consideration of a regulation put in place by the the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs to meet USDA guidelines. “When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones,” the Journal reports. The student’s mother told the Journal she received a note from the school about the incident and was charged $1.25 for the cafeteria tray, from which her daughter only ate three chicken nuggets. …The mother, who was not identified in the report, expressed concern about school officials telling her daughter that she wasn’t “packing her lunch box properly.”

This is downright horrifying, perhaps even more disgusting than any of these stories of government malfeasance and idiocy. Several questions come to mind.

  • Is the bureaucracy so bloated that we have food police in schools?
  • Why is the Department of Agriculture preparing food guidelines?
  • Why is there a Division of Child Development and Early Education
  • More important, why is there a Department of Health and Human Services?
  • When did the nanny state get the power to overrule parents on what kids eat for lunch?
  • And why are pencil-neck bureaucrats in charge of lunch box packing etiquette?

I rarely comment about religion on this blog, but reading this story almost makes me hope there’s no such thing as Heaven. That’s because I would hate to think our Founding Fathers are looking down from above and seeing what has happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

P.S. I’ll re-ask the question I posed last year: Why should we ever agree to more taxes when politicians and bureaucrats do such a rotten job with the money we’re already giving them?

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It’s not often that I get to use the word “penis” on a public policy blog. But with my juvenile sense of humor, I exploit such opportunities whenever they arise.

And I also managed to produce a couple of posts with the word “penile.”

These are such good examples that you may be wondering what I could do for an encore.

Well, when the federal government spends about $4 trillion per year, much of it pissed away (pun intended) on useless and counterproductive programs, it’s just a matter of time before we find another example.

In this instance, we return to the world of taxpayer-financed penis pumps. Here are the relevant parts of an AP report.

An Illinois man was sentenced Friday by a federal judge in Rhode Island to more than three years in prison for shipping unwanted penis enlargers to diabetes patients as part of a larger fraud scheme that prosecutors say bilked $2.2 million from Medicare over four years. …Winner purchased penis enlargers for an average of $26 each from online sex shops and then repackaged and shipped them to patients… Winner targeted Medicare beneficiaries…and persuaded patients to provide their Medicare information by offering free medical equipment and supplies, prosecutors said. …Winner then charged Medicare an average of $284 each for a total of $370,305, authorities said.

I cite this story not because I’m shocked that somebody bilked the government, but rather because it should irritate all taxpayers that it takes so long for the bureaucrats to figure out what’s happening.

My credit card company periodically will block my account, especially when I’m traveling, because of unusual transactions. But the federal government will blindly reimburse fraudsters for years.

The most powerful part of the story, though, is the way that Mr. Winner justified his crimes.

When employees confronted Winner about sending out supplies regardless of need, authorities allege he responded: “It doesn’t cost the client anything as the government is paying for it, and that the government would just print more money, so order more.”

He managed to combine the ills of third-party payer, government dependency, fiscal profligacy, and irresponsible monetary policy in one sentence.

This guy belongs in Washington. Heck, he’s qualified to be a member of the Obama cabinet!

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