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Posts Tagged ‘Government waste’

Since the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame is getting crowded, I’ve decided we need a system to limit new entrants.

So today we’re doing an experiment. We’ll look at two separate stories about lazy and overpaid bureaucrats, and the comments section will determine which one actually is most deserving of joining the Hall of Fame.

Let’s start in Italy, where Alberto Muraglia stakes his claim to membership. Here are some excerpts from a story in the UK-based Times.

Video footage of a policeman clocking in for work in his underpants before allegedly heading back to his bed has become the symbol of an embarrassing absenteeism scandal among council employees in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera. Alberto Muraglia, a pot-bellied, 53-year-old officer, was secretly filmed as he clocked on at council offices. He lives in the same building, a converted hotel, where he occupies a caretaker flat — allowing him to register his presence at work, and then go back to bed, it is alleged.

To be fair, our Italian contestant has an excuse for his truancy.

Though it’s about as plausible as the Groucho Marx quote, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

Mr Muraglia’s wife, Adriana, said the family had an alibi for every instance in which her husband was suspected of clocking in at 5.30am, opening the gates to the council building, and then returning to bed. “Some mornings, if he was a few minutes late pulling on his trousers, he would clock in in that manner and then get fully dressed immediately after and go off to work,” Mrs Muraglia told La Stampanewspaper. “Some mornings he may have forgotten, and he telephoned me to clock in on his behalf.”

In any event, Signor Muraglia is not the only bureaucrat scamming the system.

More than a hundred employees — 75 per cent of the council workforce — are under investigation for allegedly skiving off in the resort town…investigators…filmed employees swiping their time cards, and sometimes those of multiple colleagues, before turning tail and heading off to pursue other interests. One employee, filmed paddling a kayak on the Mediterranean, is alleged to have spent at least 400 hours away from his desk in the planning office, a dereliction of duty estimated to have cost San Remo council more than €5,600.

Though I have to say 400 hours away from his desk is chicken feed compared to the Italian doctor who worked only 15 days in a nine-year period.

And I like how the bureaucrats awarded themselves bonuses for their…um…hard work.

Eight of the suspected skivers shared a €10,000 productivity bonus last year.

Just like the IRS bureaucrats and VA bureaucrats who got bonuses for improper behavior.

I guess there must be an unwritten rule in government: The worse your performance, the higher your compensation.

Now let’s see how Alberto compares to our American contestant. As reported by the Contra Costa Times, former City Manager Joe Tanner is scamming taxpayers for a lavish pension, yet he’s asking for more on the basis of a shady deal he made with the City Council.

By working just two and a half more years, retired Vallejo City Manager Joseph Tanner boosted his starting annual pension from $131,500 to $216,000. He wants more, claiming he’s entitled to yearly retirement pay of $307,000. …he is now taking his six-year dispute to the state Court of Appeal. At issue is whether CalPERS must pay benefits on a contract Tanner and the Vallejo City Council concocted to boost his pension.

An extra $85,000 of pension for the rest of his life just for working 2-1/2 years?

Geesh, and I though the Philadelphia bureaucrat who is getting $50,000 of yearly loot for the rest of her life, after just three years of “work,” had a good deal. She must be feeling very envious of Mr. Tanner.

Yet Mr. Tanner isn’t satisfied.

Here’s the part that seems like it should be amusing, but it’s not actually funny when you realize that government employee pensions are driving states into fiscal chaos.

Ironically, Tanner was a critic of pension excesses. …Yet his personal spiking gambit was breathtaking. The case exemplifies how some top public officials try to manipulate their compensation to grossly inflate their retirement pay. …Tanner’s quest for another $90,000 a year, plus inflation adjustments, for the rest of his life is unreasonable.

Here’s how he schemed to pillage taxpayers.

His first contract with Vallejo called for $216,000 in base salary, plus a list of add-on items that would soon be converted to salary, bringing his compensation to $306,000. But when CalPERS advised that the amount of those add-ons would not count toward his pension, he insisted the contract be fixed. The result: His contract was amended. The add-ons were eliminated and his base salary was simply increased to $306,000, plus management incentive pay and other items that brought the total to about $349,000. If CalPERS used that number, his pension would have started at $307,000 a year. CalPERS says it was an obvious subterfuge. The amended contract was never put before the City Council at any public meeting. And there was never a truthful public explanation for it.

Of course there wasn’t a truthful explanation.

Whether bureaucrats are negotiating with other bureaucrats or whether they’re negotiating with politicians, a main goal is to hide details in order to maximize the amount of money being extracted from taxpayers.

By the way, the example of Mr. Tanner is odious, but it’s not nearly as disgusting as what happened in another California community.

Before inviting readers to vote, I want to make a serious point. Government employee pensions are a fiscal black hole because they are “defined benefits” (DB plans), which means annual payments to retirees are driven by formulas. And those formulas often include clauses that create precisely the perverse incentives exploited by Mr. Tanner.

The right approach is to reform the system so that bureaucrats instead are in a “defined contribution” system (DC plans), which basically operates like IRAs and 401(k)s. A bureaucrat’s retirement income is solely a function of how much is contributed to his or her account and how much it earns over time. By definition, there is no unfunded liability. There’s no fiscal nightmare for future taxpayers.

Now that I have that cry for fiscal prudence out of my system, I invite readers to vote. Does the shirking underwear-clad Italian bureaucrat deserve to join the Hall of Fame, or should that honor be bestowed on the scheming and hypocritical American bureaucrat?

P.S. While I think DC plans are inherently superior (and safer for taxpayers) than DB plans, I will acknowledge that some nations manage to run DB plans honestly.

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My first instinct, when arguing against higher taxes, is to pontificate about the negative impact of high marginal tax rates and punitive effect of double taxation on saving and investment.

Those are very legitimate concerns, and they’re the obvious things for an economist to highlight.

But I’m going to confess that my main motive for fighting tax increases is that I don’t think we should reward incompetent and feckless politicians by giving them more of our money.

I routinely cite horrifying cases of government waste and bureaucratic stupidity and it galls me to think that American families might have to sacrifice more of their income to the gaping maw of Washington.

And now I have more reasons to despise the political class. Check out these three additional examples of foolish waste.

The Washington Examiner reports that agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration got illegal bonuses after “partying” with prostitutes.

Drug Enforcement Agency officials linked to sex parties and prostitutes paid by drug cartels weren’t fired but rewarded with $95,000 in performance bonuses, according to a shocking new report from the Justice Department’s inspector general. What’s more, the bonuses weren’t allowed. …The report outraged House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz…”It is a disgrace that taxpayer dollars are being wasted on those who violate our trust and abuse their positions.”

I’m particularly impressed that they didn’t just hang out with normal prostitutes. These hookers were provided by the drug cartels!

I’m surprised they didn’t get free cocaine as well.

Our second story is from the Los Angeles Times, and it reveals that the Federal Air Marshall program is an ineffectual waste of money.

I realize “ineffectual waste of money” applies to most everything the government does, but this program must be uniquely wasteful.

…the federal air marshal program is mired in…allegations of misconduct and management turmoil, prompting some in Congress to question whether the multi-billion dollar experiment has outlived its usefulness. …At a price tag of $9 billion over the past 10 years, Duncan called the program “ineffective” and “irrelevant.”

I had no idea the government was squandering almost $1 billion per year on this empty gesture of security theater.

But I guess the costs add up with the Marshalls get to fly in first class while the taxpayers are stuck in coach.

Some air marshals have complained they feel they are merely “riding the bus” as they hopscotch around on domestic and international planes. …In addition, the agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has been hit recently with several scandals. In 2012 some agents were accused of setting up sexual liaisons to coincide with their work flights. …some Chicago-based marshals allegedly disguised themselves as pornography producers to hire prostitutes after some trips. …the program “has come to be a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the DHS, when 4,000 bored cops fly around the country First Class, committing more crimes than they stop.”

But not every Air Marshall was satisfied by first class travel and hookers.

“I hated every day of it,” said former air marshal Jay Lacson, who said he is suing after being fired for inappropriately releasing confidential job information. “I couldn’t stay awake. I got colds. You get complacent.” He added, “They don’t need the agency anymore.”

To complete a trifecta of brainless government waste, now let’s turn to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As recounted by my colleague Walter Olson, this bureaucracy sued a trucking company for failing to provide “reasonable accommodation” to Muslim truck drivers who didn’t want to deliver alcoholic beverages.

In 2013 the commission sued the Star Transport Co. in Illinois for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to two Muslim truck drivers when it dismissed them for refusing to haul booze

Since the EEOC bureaucrats already have gone after a trucking company that wanted to weed out alcoholics (seemingly a prudent step), I briefly wondered whether these pinheads are trying to tilt the playing field in favor of air cargo and/or railroads.

But that assumes they know enough about investing to manipulate the market. But if they were that clever, they probably wouldn’t be languishing in the federal bureaucracy.

Instead, I think the EEOC simply wants to make sure it’s still recognized as America’s most clueless and malicious bureaucracy.

P.S. Since today’s topic is wasteful spending, I suppose it’s appropriate to share these excerpts from a report by the Daily Caller.

Entitlement spending accounts for most erroneous federal payments, and it’s only going to get worse, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told Congress Thursday. “Improper” Medicaid, Medicare, and Earned Income Tax Credit disbursements made up 75 percent of all erroneous federal payments in fiscal year 2014, and were the main driver behind a nearly $19 billion increase in improper payments — from $105.8 billion in fiscal year 2013 to $124.7 billion in fiscal year 2014… Medicare incorrectly paid out one of every $10 the program spent last year, or $59.9 billion of its $603 billion budget.

Something to keep in mind next time someone argues that we can stick our heads in the sand and not enact genuine entitlement reform.

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I created the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame as a way of giving special attention to government employees who go above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to get paid way too much in exchange for doing far too little.

While my standard practice is to bestow this honor on individual bureaucrats, sometimes I bend the rules and give the award to an entire group, such as the paralegals at the Patent and Trademark Office who were paid – and even given bonuses – even though they were never assigned any work.

Well, not doing work must be part of the culture at that bureaucracy. The Washington Post reports on an employee who apparently was supposed to do some actual work but instead gamed the system.

A federal patent examiner racked up more than 18 weeks of pay last year for work he didn’t do, but his manager didn’t notice until he received an anonymous letter claiming the employee only showed up for his job sporadically and turned in work that was “garbage.” …The examiner, a poor performer for years who was never disciplined, came and went as he pleased… He frequently told colleagues he was leaving work to go to the local golf driving range, play pool or grab a beer — then claimed a full day on the job on his time sheet. On most of the days when the examiner was gaming the system, “there was no evidence” he even went to the office or did any work on his government-issued laptop, investigators found.

My initial reaction to this story is that American bureaucrats need to learn some lessons from their foreign counterparts.

Doing zero work for 18 weeks and still getting paid may sound impressive, but it’s trivial compared to the Indian bureaucrat who managed to get paid up until last year even though he stopped showing up for work back in 1990. Or the lavishly compensated Italian government employee who only worked 15 days over a nine-year period.

But I’m not an Indian or Italian taxpayer. I get irked by when my tax dollars are being squandered.

So why didn’t his supervisor notice that something was amiss?

Well, perhaps that person didn’t notice because he or she was never around.

The examiner’s supervisor works from home more than 30 hours a week.

And even if the supervisor was paying attention, it might not have mattered.

…union rules allowed supervisors limited oversight over their employees.

Though there were plenty of warning signs that should have been noticed.

“Despite numerous red flags and the [patent office’s] internal controls, the agency did not review [the examiner’s] time and attendance records to determine if he was claiming time for work he did not perform,” the 27-page investigation by Acting Inspector General said. The patent office had received numerous complaints from inventors and their attorneys that the examiner was not responsive to their e-mails and phone calls.

If you’re a taxpayer, you’ll be delighted to know that the bureaucrat was making a very comfortable salary.

And even though the scam has been ended, you’ll also be happy to learn that he or she will leave with a clean personnel record.

The employee, a GS-11 making more than $70,000, quit two hours before he was scheduled to meet with the inspector general’s office, the report said. The union representing patent examiners told him that if he resigned, his personnel record would stay clean, not showing that he was under investigation for falsifying hours.

Gee, isn’t that wonderful. Anybody want to guess whether this person winds up working for another government agency?

The final part of the story nicely captures much of what’s wrong with Washington.

An independent review last month by the National Academy of Public Administration…praised the agency’s telework program as a model in the federal government that’s good for morale

Yeah, I bet it’s good for morale. If I got (over)paid and didn’t have to do much work, I might feel happy as well.

Actually, that’s not true. For better or worse, I passionately care about the future of the country and the cause of human liberty. So I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing even if I had to do it as a hobby. I’m just lucky that I get to ply my trade at America’s most effective think tank.

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Since I primarily work on fiscal policy, I normally look at the budgetary impact of entitlement programs. And the numbers are very grim.

But I’m also an economist, so I periodically comment on how government intervention undermines the efficient functioning of markets in the healthcare field.

Last but not least, I’m also a taxpayer, so I can’t resist occasionally expressing my frustration at how the government is a giant pinata of waste fraud and abuse. And government-run healthcare seems especially vulnerable.

Huge amounts of money bilked from taxpayers for supposed counseling sessions financed by Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare getting scammed to pay for plastic surgery.

Russian diplomats scheming to get their healthcare costs covered by Medicaid.

We now have another example to add to the list.

The Washington Post has an excellent expose on how government incompetence has made Medicare a prime target for fraudsters and other crooks.

…in a Los Angeles courtroom, Bonilla described the workings of a peculiar fraud scheme that — starting in the mid-1990s — became one of the great success stories in American crime. The sucker in this scheme was the U.S. government.The tool of the crime was the motorized wheelchair. The wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair. …The government paid. Since 1999, Medicare has spent $8.2 billion to procure power wheelchairs and “scooters” for 2.7 million people. Today, the government cannot even guess at how much of that money was paid out to scammers.

Wow. Billions of dollars of fraud and the government to this day still can’t figure out the level of theft.

And wheelchair fraud is just a small slice of the problem.

…while it lasted, the scam illuminated a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice. …Fraud in Medicare has been a top concern in Washington for decades, in part because the program’s mistakes are so expensive. In fiscal 2013, for instance, Medicare paid out almost $50 billion in “improper payments.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that fraud is so lucrative because the government routinely over-pays for items.

…The original equipment scam had sprung up in the 1970s, at a time when Medicare was young and criminals were still learning how to steal its money. Doctors, for example, could bill Medicare for exams they didn’t do. Hospitals could bill for tests that patients didn’t need. The equipment scam was the poor man’s way in, an entry-level fraud that didn’t require a medical degree or a hospital. …“Let me put it to you this way: An $840 power wheelchair, Medicare pays close to $5,000 for. So there’s a huge profit margin there. Huge,” said one California man who participated in a recent fraud scheme involving wheelchairs.

So this isn’t just a story about government incompetence and taxpayer ripoffs, it’s also a story which shows why third-party payer is a recipe for excessive healthcare spending.

The good news is that the wheelchair scam is slowly fading away.

The bad news is that the overall problem of a poorly designed entitlement system ensures that scammers and other crooks will simply come up with other ways to pillage taxpayers.

Today, even while the wheelchair scam is in decline, that same “pay and chase” system is allowing other variants of the Medicare equipment scam to thrive. They aren’t perfect. But they work.  In Brooklyn, for instance, the next big thing is shoe inserts. Scammers bill Medicare for a $500 custom-made orthotic, according to investigators. They give the patient a $30 Dr. Scholl’s.

Geesh.

When examining entitlements, I’ve  argued that Medicaid reform is the biggest priority.

But perhaps the rampant fraud means Medicare should be addressed first.

Though the right answer is to reform both programs, which is why I’m so pleased that the House of Representatives has approved the Ryan budget for four consecutive years, even if each new proposal allows more spending than the previous one. What matters most if that Ryan’s plan block grants Medicaid and creates a premium support system for Medicare.

Those reforms won’t eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse, but the structural reforms will make it harder for crooks to take advantage of the programs.

P.S. If you want more background information on Medicare, here’s a post that explains why the program is so costly even though seniors don’t enjoy first-class benefits.

P.P.S. And here’s my video explaining why Medicare desperately needs reform.

But keep in mind we also need reform of Medicaid and Social Security.

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Which nation has the most costly bureaucracy?

Well, if the answer is based solely on how much it costs to employ bureaucrats, you can see from this chart that Denmark comes in first place.

As an American taxpayer, I’m glad to learn that there are other nations that squander more money on civil servants.

But I get the feeling that the crowd in Washington is miffed that the United States didn’t wind up at the top of the list.

I’m being satirical, of course, but that’s what came to mind because is seems that our political masters are doing everything possible to waste money on needless bureaucracy.

For instance, here are some disturbing details for a report published by CNBC.

The federal government has a serious problem keeping tabs on its employees, from an FCC worker watching porn while at work, to DHS employees collecting overtime pay to sit on Netflix or talk on the phone. And now, a new report from the Patent and Trademark Office found that at least 19 paralegals have been getting paid $60,000 to $80,000 a year to sit on Facebook, online shop and watch TV — costing taxpayers about $5.1 million in the last four years. Even more egregious — the auditors said managers looked the other way and billed the hours under “other time” while also giving each of the workers thousands of dollars worth of performance bonuses during that same time period. The managers “were completely aware of the volume of ‘other time’ hours during the relevant time frame and took little action to prevent such waste,” the IG said. The auditors said one manager even dubbed the billing code the “I don’t have work but I’m going to get paid code.” …The report said “nonproductive time” racked up to between 50 and 70 hours in an 80-hour pay period.

But let’s be fair to the bureaucrats.

The story says they were goofing off because nobody gave them any work.

Whistleblowers told auditors that the paralegals just didn’t have enough work to do, so they spent their time doing other things — some even volunteered for charity organizations while clocked in at the Patent and Trademark Office. …whistleblowers said the paralegals rely on judges to assign them work and there weren’t enough judges on staff to assign new cases.

Or maybe the judges are lazy and inefficient, which is not exactly an unknown trait inside government.

In any event, the most outrageous part of the story is that the bureaucrats at the Patent and Trademark Office were given thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. For what?!? Doing a superlative job of watching TV?!?

Though I must admit this isn’t as bad as the bureaucrats at the Veterans Administration, who gave themselves bonuses while letting veterans languish and die on secret waiting lists.

And to add insult to injury, the bureaucrats at the Patent and Trademark Office (and their lazy and inefficient bosses) work at a luxurious new taxpayer-financed “campus” in suburban Virginia.

As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Though “work” is obviously a gross overstatement.

The bottom line is that we have a bureaucracy that is far too big and costs far too much.

P.S. Not only does Denmark have the most expensive bureaucrats, it’s also home to “Lazy Robert,” who is a proud member of the Moocher Hall of Fame (and doubtlessly also a passenger on the Party Boat).

P.P.S. I’ve shared more anti-libertarian humor than pro-libertarian humor, so it’s time to impose some balance. Here’s something I just saw on Twitter.

Needless to say, Obama hasn’t exactly been a civil libertarian on surveillance issues.

P.P.P.S. And speaking of humor, the PotL just send me this video from her region of the world.

There’s no political angle, of course, but it fits in with some of the other terrorism-related humor I’ve shared.

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You won’t know whether to laugh or cry after perusing these stories that will be added to our “great moments in government” collection.

For instance, did you realize that American taxpayers were saddled with the responsibility to micro-manage agriculture in Afghanistan? You’re probably surprised the answer is yes.

But I bet you’re not surprised that the money was flushed down a toilet. Here are some excerpts from a report on how $34 million was wasted.

American agricultural experts who consider soybeans a superfood…have invested tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to try to change the way Afghans eat. The effort, aimed at making soy a dietary staple, has largely been a flop, marked by mismanagement, poor government oversight and financial waste, according to interviews and government audit documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. Warnings by agronomists that the effort was unwise were ignored. The country’s climate turns out to be inappropriate for soy cultivation and its farming culture is ill-prepared for large-scale soybean production. Soybeans are now no more a viable commercial crop in Afghanistan than they were in 2010, when the $34 million program got started… The ambitious effort also appears to have been undone by a simple fact, which might have been foreseen but was evidently ignored: Afghans don’t like the taste of the soy processed foods.

Sadly, this $34 million boondoggle is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Well, it’s also the graveyard of tax dollars.

…the project’s problems model the larger shortcomings of the estimated $120 billion U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, including what many experts depict as ignorance of Afghan traditions, mismanagement and poor spending controls. No one has calculated precisely how much the United States wasted or misspent in Afghanistan, but a…special auditor appointed by President Obama the following year said he discovered nearly $7 billion worth of Afghanistan-related waste in just his first year on the job.

I’m guessing that most of the $120 billion was squandered using traditional definitions of waste.

But using a libertarian definition of waste (i.e., money that the federal government should not spend), we can easily calculate that the entire $120 billion was squandered.

Let’s now discuss another example of American taxpayer money being wasted in other nations. I’ve written previously about the squalid corruption at the Export-Import Bank, but Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus is the go-to expert on this issue, and she has a new article at National Review about “a project in Brazil that, if it goes bust and the Brazilians can’t pay the American contractor, your tax dollars will end up paying for.”

And what is this project?

…an Export-Import Bank–backed deal to build the largest aquarium in South America…the taxpayer exposure is $150,000 per job “supported.” Some people in Brazil are rightly upset about this. The Ex-Im loan may have lower interest rates and better terms than a regular loan, but this is probably money the indebted and poor Brazilian government can’t afford. …a real problem with the Ex-Im Bank: On one hand, it gives cheap money to large companies who would have access to capital markets even in its absence. But on the other hand, it encourages middle-income or poor countries to take on debt that they probably can’t afford, whether the products purchased are “made in America” or not.

Gee, aren’t we happy that some bureaucrats and politicians have decided to put us on the hook for a Brazilian aquarium.

But let’s try to make the best of a bad situation. Here’s a depiction of what you’re subsidizing. Enjoy.

Subsidized by American taxpayers

I hope you got your money’s worth from the image.

Perhaps I’m being American-centric by focusing on examples of bad policies from the crowd in Washington.

So let’s look at an example of government foolishness from Germany. It doesn’t involve tax money being wasted (at least not directly), but I can’t resist sharing this story because it’s such a perfect illustration of government in action.

Check out these excerpts from a British news report on over-zealous enforcement by German cops.

A one-armed man in Germany has received a full apology and refund from the police after an overzealous officer fined him for cycling using only one arm. Bogdan Ionescu, a theatre box office worker from Cologne, gets around the usually cycle-friendly city using a modified bicycle that allows him to operate both brakes – one with his foot. But on 25 March he was pulled over by a police officer who, he says, told him he was breaking the law. Under German road safety rules, bicycles are required to have to have two handlebar brakes. After a long argument at the roadside, the officer insisted that Mr Ionescu’s bike was not roadworthy and issued him with a €25 (£20) fine.

At least this story had a happy ending, at least if you overlook the time and aggravation for Mr. Ionescu.

Our last (but certainly not least) example of foolish government comes from Nebraska, though the culprit is the federal government.

But maybe “disconcerting” would be a better word than “foolish.”

It seems that our friends on the left no longer think that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” In a very troubling display of thuggery, the Justice Department dispatched a bureaucrat to “investigate” a satirical parade float.

Here’s some of what was reported by the Washington Times.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a member of its Community Relations Service team to investigate a Nebraska parade float that criticized President Obama. A Fourth of July parade float featured at the annual Independence Day parade in Norfolk sparked criticism when it depicted a zombie-like figure resembling Mr. Obama standing outside an outhouse, which was labeled the “Obama Presidential Library.” The Nebraska Democratic Party called the float one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.” The Omaha World-Herald reported Friday that the Department of Justice sent a CRS member who handles discrimination disputes to a Thursday meeting about the issue. …The float’s creator, Dale Remmich, has said the mannequin depicted himself, not President Obama. He said he is upset with the president’s handling of the Veterans Affairs Department, the World-Herald reported. “Looking at the float, that message absolutely did not come through,” said NAACP chapter president Betty C. Andrews.

If you look at the picture (and other pictures that can be seen with an online search), I see plenty of disrespect for the current president, but why is that something that requires an investigation?

There was plenty of disrespect for the previous president. And there as also disrespect for the president before that. And before that. And before…well, you get the idea.

Disrespect for politicians is called political speech, and it’s (supposedly) protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

That’s even true if the float’s creator had unseemly motives such as racism. He would deserve scorn if that was the case, and parade organizers would (or at least should) have the right to exclude him on that basis.

But you don’t lose your general right to free speech just because you have unpopular and/or reprehensible opinions. And the federal government shouldn’t be doing anything that can be construed as suppressing or intimidating Americans who want to “disrespect” the political class.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of politicized bureaucracy, we have an update to a recent column about sleazy behavior at the IRS.

According to the Daily Caller, there’s more and more evidence of a big fire behind all the smoke at the IRS.

Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive was “scratched” and the data on it was still recoverable. But the IRS did not try to recover the data from Lerner’s hard drive, despite recommendations from in-house IRS IT experts to outsource the recovery project. The hard drive was then “shredded,” according to a court filing the IRS made to House Ways and Means Committee investigators.

Gee, how convenient.

I used to dislike the IRS because of the tax code. Now I have an additional reason to view the bureaucrats with disdain.

P.P.S. One last comment on the controversy surrounding the parade float. Racism is an evil example of collectivist thinking. But it is also reprehensible for folks on the left to make accusations of racism simply because they disagree with someone.

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When I started writing about public policy, I never realized that …um…human waste would be a frequent topic.

*But we examined (not too closely!) the story of a Postal Service employee who defecated in someone’s yard and got to keep his job.

*We wondered why the Greek government wanted stool samples from entrepreneurs starting online companies.

*We mocked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for pushing a multi-billion dollar regulation to help “pee-shy” employees.

*We contemplated the story of a 30-year old man who wanted government handouts to subsidize his fetish of wearing adult diapers.

*And even though it had nothing to do with public policy, I wrote about my inability to figure out a foreign toilet.

So with that track record, you know I have to give some coverage to a report about EPA bureaucrats pooping in hallways.

Here is a passage from a story published by Government Executive.

Environmental Protection Agency workers have done some odd things recently. Contractors built secret man caves in an EPA warehouse, an employee pretended to work for the CIA to get unlimited vacations and one worker even spent most of his time on the clock looking at pornography. It appears, however, that a regional office has reached a new low: Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway.

This somehow hasn’t been a problem anyplace I’ve worked, and I even spent some time on Capitol Hill in 1989-1990 (there was a lot of you-know-what in Congress, but it was the figurative kind).

But at least we can count on government to use any excuse to waste money. The EPA pissed away (no pun intended) some of our tax dollars so that a so-called consultant could state the obvious.

Confounded by what to make of this occurrence, EPA management “consulted” with workplace violence “national expert” John Nicoletti, who said that hallway feces is in fact a health and safety risk.

Gee, I wonder how much Mr. Nicoletti got paid to produce such brilliant analysis.

But let’s look at the silver lining to this story. When EPA bureaucrats are pooping in hallways, that’s a relatively non-destructive use of their time.

If the bureaucrats were industrious, we’d see more horror stories such as:

1. Persecuting a family for building a pond on their own property.

2. Persecuting a family for trying to build a house on their own property.

Let’s close by making fun of extreme environmentalism. For instance, green crazies have produced hand-cranked vibrators to fight global warming. And they also want us to use uncomfortable recycled toilet paper.

This makes them easy targets for satire, such as this video mocking Al Gore and this Hitler parody video about global warming.

We also have this joke about a modern-day Noah trying to build an ark, this satire about a “dam” beaver,” this humor involving the Pope, loggers, and an environmentalist, and this R-rated humor about a tree hugger.

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I’ve never been susceptible to the claim that you solve problems with taxpayer money.

Indeed, this amusing poster is a pretty good summary of my views on the effectiveness of government spending.

But what about the horrific stories about veterans dying because of secret waiting lists and bureaucratic skullduggery at the Veterans Administration?

I want to take care of former soldiers who need treatment because of their service, and national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government. So is this one of the rare cases where a budget needs to increase? That’s certainly the mentality in some quarters on Capitol Hill.

Here are some excerpts from Byron York’s column in the Washington Examiner.

Sanders and his fellow Democrats want to give the VA billions more. …What is striking about Sanders’ bill is not just its price tag but how irrelevant it is to the most serious problems besetting the VA health care system. It was like adding new chrome to a car that won’t run. When Republicans stopped the bill earlier this year, Democrats predictably accused them of being insensitive to veterans’ needs. …It’s unclear what Congress will do, but one certainty in the debate is that the Sanders bill won’t solve the problem.

But what do the actual budget numbers show?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the VA already has lots of money.

Here’s some of what has been reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency caught in a political firestorm over its medical care for veterans, has seen its funding grow faster than any other government department in recent years. Since 2000, annual spending has tripled to $63 billion to meet a surge in health-care and other costs. That is on top of the more than $85 billion the VA is set to receive this year for automatic payments such as disability benefits and pensions, a tally that has more than tripled since 2000.

But some may argue that needs are rising even faster because so many soldiers were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Federalist addressed this issue, in an article by Sean Davis.

VA funding has more than kept up with both medical inflation and increased patient loads. An analysis of budget and cost data, as well as data on the total number of VA patients and the number of acute inpatients treated, shows that the VA’s budget has grown much faster than its workload. Even when you take medical inflation into account, the VA budget still grew faster than its patient base since 2000. …The VA has a whole bunch of problems, but a lack of funding ain’t one.

Here’s a chart from Sean’s article. Hard to argue with these numbers.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of national defense and foreign affairs, let’s take a look at a very provocative column by Steve Chapman. He says that President Obama, whether by accident or design, actually has a reasonable foreign policy. As least if you think good foreign policy should be based on a prudent understanding of the limits of government.

Conservatives generally agree on a few propositions. The federal government should avoid spending money unnecessarily. It shouldn’t exceed its basic constitutional duties. It should encourage self-reliance rather than dependency. It should accept that some problems are beyond its ability to solve.  Barack Obama, they may be surprised to learn, agrees with much of this formula. He just applies it in a realm where conservatives often don’t: foreign relations and national security. The Obama doctrine, as outlined in his policies and his speech at West Point Wednesday, is one of comparatively limited government.

Chapman elaborates, drawing an interesting parallel to domestic issues.

A…sensible view is that the U.S. can indeed remain idle while alleged dangers gather, because most of them won’t materialize. The immortal philosopher Calvin Coolidge said, “If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.” Many conservatives believe in hurrying out to meet all 10 just in case. …Critics charge that Obama’s foreign policy shows an unwillingness to lead, or weakness, or uncertain purposes. The same complaint, of course, could be made about conservative policies on poverty, health care, urban blight, access to housing and more. “Don’t you care?” indignant liberals ask. But sometimes ambitious government undertakings are too expensive to justify, sometimes they fail to solve problems, and sometimes they make things worse. In those instances, declining to act — and explaining why — is the most authentic form of leadership. That’s just as true in the international realm as it is in the domestic one.

I’m not a foreign policy expert, but I’m very sympathetic Chapman’s hypothesis because skepticism is always a good approach when analyzing government. And his piece on NATO is must reading for similar reasons.

That being said, I’m not going to put Obama on a pedestal or assume that he’s doing the right thing on foreign policy for the right reason. My guess is that his default position in foreign affairs is passivity.

That often coincides with the libertarian position of non-intervention. But as I wrote above, libertarians also believe that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of government, which is why they generally were allied with conservatives during the Cold War, when we faced an aggressive and imperialistic Soviet Bloc.

My guess is that if we went into a time machine and it was 1980 instead of 2014, Obama would be more like Jimmy Carter and less like Ronald Reagan.

P.P.S. Mark Steyn also has written some very wise words about libertarian-ish foreign policy.

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As you can imagine, there’s a lot to choose from in the contest for the most spectacular waste of tax dollars.

But the politicians in Oregon must really want the prize, because they managed to flush several hundred million dollars down a rat hole by putting together a state-run Obamacare website that has to be abandoned because it is so dysfunctional.

And if the Oregon website is so bad that it’s switching to the much-derided Washington Obamacare website, it must be a disaster of unparalleled dimensions!

Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

After months of trying to get its problem-plagued online health exchange to work, Oregon on Friday officially gave up on the state portal… Officials say fixing the existing system would be too costly at $78 million and would take too long. …Oregon’s exchange is seen as the worst in more than a dozen states that developed their own online health insurance marketplaces. The general public still can’t use Cover Oregon’s website to sign up for coverage in one sitting. Instead, Oregonians must use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online process to sign up for insurance — despite $134 million the state paid Oracle Corp. to build the online exchange. …In March, the federal Government Accountability Office announced an investigation of Oregon’s exchange, including looking at whether the federal government can reclaim grant money given to Cover Oregon if taxpayer funds were mismanaged.

Heck, it’s not just the GAO that’s investigating.

The FBI reportedly is probing the failed launch of Oregon’s ObamaCare insurance exchange, joining several other agencies looking into the multimillion-dollar program that was scrapped last month.  …the FBI has interviewed several people as part of the inquiry. The Oregonian reported that the bureau held a 90-minute meeting with a former Republican lawmaker who detailed potential wrongdoing — including suspicions that the state showed the feds a misleading demonstration to keep money flowing. …A U.S. House committee already is probing the Oregon debacle, as is the Government Accountability Office. The state received more than $300 million in federal grants to launch and operate the health care system. Much of what it has spent so far has gone to Oracle Corp.

But let’s be fair. Not all of the $300 million was squandered on the failed website.

The politicians also coughed up $3 million for this video, which presumably was supposed to lure people to the non-working website but probably just made people think Oregon is infested by patchouli-soaked deadbeats.

The video almost stands by itself as a form of left-wing self parody.

But what makes it especially amusing is that it generated this amusing segment on one of HBO’s programs.

Well done.

I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know if the guy who did this segment is on the right, the left, or somewhere in between.

But it would be nice to have a talk show host who is willing to go after all sides, unlike Colbert and Stewart who clearly bend over backwards to curry favor with the White House.

Anyhow, if you like videos that use humor to mock government-run healthcare, here are some good options.

*The head of the National Socialist Workers Party finds out he can’t keep his health plan.

*A creepy version of Uncle Sam wants to know about your sex life.

*Young people discover that they’re screwed by Obamacare.

*One of the biggest statists of the 20th century is angry that the Obamacare exchanges don’t work.

*A cartoon video showing how to buy coffee in an Obamacare world.

But never forget that this is a serious issue. Government has screwed up the healthcare system, yet politicians then use the mess they create to justify even more intervention.

The only effective solution is economic liberty.

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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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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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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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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”.

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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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:

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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Every year, I look forward to the annual releases of both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom. With their comprehensive rankings, these two publications enable interested parties to compare nations and see which countries are moving in the right direction.

As an American, I’m ashamed to say that these publications also show which nations are moving in the wrong direction. And the United States ranks poorly by this metric, having dropped from 3rd place to 10th place since 2000 according to Economic Freedom of the World.

The U.S. also has dropped to 10th place in the Index of Economic Freedom, and is now ranked only as a “mostly free” nation.

Some people dismiss these pieces of data because the two rankings are considered to reflect a pro-free market bias.

But the folks at the World Economic Forum surely can’t be pigeonholed as a bunch of small-government libertarians, and the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report shows the same trend.

The United States took the top spot in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index as recently as 2007 and 2008, but then dropped to 2nd place in 2009.

I think Bush bears the full blame for that unfortunate development. But the decline has continued in recent years, and Obama deserves a good part of the blame for the drop to 4th place in 2010.

The U.S. then fell to 5th place last year, in part because of horrible scores for “Wastefulness of Government Spending” (68th place) and “Burden of Government Regulation” (49th place).

Given this dismal trend, I opened the just-released 2012 Report with considerable trepidation. And my fears were justified. The United States has now dropped to 7th place.

Here is some of what was said about America.

The United States continues the decline that began a few years ago, falling two more positions to take 7th place this year. Although many structural features continue to make its economy extremely productive, a number of escalating and unaddressed weaknesses have lowered the US ranking in recent years. …some weaknesses in particular areas have deepened since past assessments. The business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions (41st). In particular, its trust in politicians is not strong (54th), perhaps not surprising in light of recent political disputes that threaten to push the country back into recession through automatic spending cuts. Business leaders also remain concerned about the government’s ability to maintain arms-length relationships with the private sector (59th), and consider that the government spends its resources relatively wastefully (76th). A lack of macroeconomic stability continues to be the country’s greatest area of weakness (111th, down from 90th last year).

For people who like to look at the glass as being 1/10th full, the U.S. does beat Portugal (116ht place) in the score for macroeconomic stability.

Here are a few additional highlights. Or lowlights might be a better word.

  • The U.S. scores 42nd in property rights, behind Namibia and Uruguay.
  • The U.S. ranks 59th in government favoritism, behind Guinea and Bolivia.
  • The U.S. scores 76th in wastefulness in government spending, behind Mali and Nicaragua.
  • The U.S. also is 76th in the burden of government regulation, behind Kenya and Thailand.
  • The U.S. scores 69th in extent of taxation, behind Gambia and Ethiopia.
  • The U.S. ranks 103rd for total tax rate, behind Greece (!) and Philippines.

Now time for some caveats. The WEF report is based on survey results, for better or worse, and it also probably is best characterized as a measure of the attitudes of the business community rather than an estimate of economic freedom.

Regardless of limitations, though, it is a good publication. As such, it is downright embarrassing to see the U.S. fare so poorly in key indices – particularly when third-world nations score better.

We know that small government and free markets are the keys to prosperity. Bush took us in the wrong direction, however, and Obama is repeating his mistakes.

So don’t be surprised to see the American score decline further as additional reports are issued.

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Welcome Instapundit readers. Thanks, Glenn. Since the declining score in the U.S. is partly due to poor fiscal policy, you may want to peruse this video primer on the size of government.

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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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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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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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