As year’s end approaches, we typically look back on the year just passed to see what went well and what did not. Since 2013 was cratered by the battles fought in Congress over the budget, with everyone proclaiming how concerned they are with making sure the people’s money is well used, let’s have a look back at just how carefully they spent your hard-earned money this year.
For this we’ll enlist the services of a volunteer government waste watchdog, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who publishes his annual Wastebook cataloguing the top 100 government projects that burn your money – and may also burn your top.
“As you read each of the 100 projects costing nearly $30 billion outlined in this report,” the Senator focuses our attention in the introduction to his opus, “ask yourself: Can we afford this at this time? Could this money have been better spent or not spent at all? Is this a national priority or is this something benefiting a special interest? Does this fit the role of the federal government as outlined in the U.S. Constitution?”
Taking from Soldiers and Seniors
Remember how half of the $109 billion per year in sequestered cuts comes from military funding? Well, somehow they found $10 million to spend on recruitment adds for the Army National Guard to be shown during the latest Superman movie. All “while plans were being made to cut the strength of the Guard by 8,000 soldiers – the real supermen and women who fight for truth, justice and the American way.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also subsidized thousands of risky mortgages – including 100 luxury Hawaiian beach-front homes – while simultaneously cutting housing assistance for disabled elderly seniors. “And while nutrition assistance was being reduced for many needy families, USDA was spending money on celebrity chef cook-offs” with taxpayer-covered open bar.
We Won’t, We Won’t… OK, We Will
Remember the 16-day government shutdown in October, when half of Congress refused to allow a debt limit increase but ended up doing so anyway for absolutely no benefit at all? Well neither did the taxpayers get any benefit from the $2 billion spent on government employee back-pay “for services that could not be performed.” Of course, these services would have been performed if Congress had performed theirs, and the nation would have gained some benefit from those $2 billion spent.
Meanwhile, NASA spent $47 million on 12,300 furloughed employees, the Department of Treasury spent $84 million on 21,751 workers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $5.6 million on 1,406 staff – while the government shutdown robbed the taxpayers of the benefits of those salaries, as “services to veterans were halted or curtailed” and taxpayers “could not receive assistance” from the IRS during the closure. It’s like paying for a dinner that was never served to you.
Now we certainly can’t blame furloughed employees for such government waste, as it wasn’t their decision to close their offices. Those who are at fault for causing such waste, Senator Coburn affirms, are those who did the shutting down – who received pay for doing no work on a decision that was entirely their own. “Congress which is expected to perform essential work should not be paid when it fails to pass an annual budget as required by law,” the Senator rebuked.
In the Front Door – And Out the Back
There’s more on that Army National Guard “Superman” recruitment campaign. The $10 million the Army spent bought 2 commercials during the latest Superman movie, promotional online video games, a series of work out and fitness videos, in-gym network ads, ads on high school websites, and online/mobile/video ads – all with the aim of “enlisting new recruits” streaming in through the front doors for the Army to train.
Meanwhile, they have thousands of fully trained, seasoned, and experienced Army personnel being booted out the back door, “as a result of the spending restraints imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011” which will “reduce at least 100,000 additional personnel across the Total Force – the Active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. When coupled with previously planned cuts to end strength, the Army could lose up to 200,000 soldiers over the next ten years.”
And how did the movie do? They added the $10 million they received from the Army to the $160 million they received from other promotional tie-ins to the $662 million they made at the box office. They better not be dodging their taxes!
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So That’s Where They Learned How To Do That!
The list just goes on with one example after another of government waste of taxpayer dollars, confirming what everyone has known all along: that no one “philanders” you (to avoid bolder terms) better than your own government.
But have you ever wondered how they have become such experts in that field? Well, they’ve studied it. The government has actually commissioned studies on the art of “romancing.” And to add insult to injury – they used your taxpayers dollars to pay for it.
Since 2010, “The Popular Romance Project” has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks,” the Wastebook cites.
And to absolutely no one’s surprise, “the Library of Congress Center for the Book is also a participant in the project.” Now there’s a vested interest if ever there were one.
“Taking love and its stories seriously, wherever they may be found, the Popular Romance Project will spark a lively, thoughtful conversation between fans, authors, scholars, and the general public about the writing, production, and consumption of popular romance, including its history and transformation in the digital age,” the Project presents its aims.
It plans to “bring new audiences into the conversation about the nature of love, romance, and their expression in novels and popular culture more broadly” through four programs:
A documentary entitled “Love Between the Covers”;
An interactive website dedicated to romance and romance novels;
An academic symposium on “the past and future of the romance novel” hosted by the Library of Congress Center for the Book; and
A “nationwide series of library programs dealing with the past, present, and future of the romance novel” with a traveling exhibit.
Yes, a traveling exhibit, probably with stops at all major government office buildings.
Where it Could Have Gone
“This year more than 100 individuals and families received loan guarantees for $500,000 or more from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase a residence in Hawaii,” with the government promising to pay 90% if they default. Cost: $500 million.
“As the U.S. war effort in the Middle East winds to a close, the military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment… rather than sell it or ship it back home.” Cost: $7 billion.
“The Army spent three and a half years developing a football field-sized blimp that would provide continuous surveillance of the Afghan battlefield – called by some an ‘unblinking eye’. In 2013, however, the Army closed the blimp’s eye forever when it brought the project to a halt after spending [just under] $300 million. The Army sold the airship back to the contractor that was building it for just $301,000.” Cost: $297 million.
“Despite bringing in more than $1 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits last year, the social-media giant Facebook reported a combined $429 million refund from their federal and state tax filings. Uncle Sam cut a check to Facebook for roughly $295 million in 2012, according to one analysis of the company’s 10-K filing.” On account of tax provisions permitting companies to pay employees with “stock options as a major form of their compensation… to date Facebook has claimed $3.2 billion in federal and state stock option deductions.” (I wonder if the company is being featured in that documentary Congress is commissioning.)
“These are only a few of the 100 examples of government mismanagement and stupidity included in Wastebook 2013,” Senator Coburn concludes his forward. “Collectively these cost nearly $30 billion in a year when Washington would have you believe everything that could be done has been done to control unnecessary spending. Had just these 100 been eliminated, the sequester amount would have been reduced nearly a third without any noticeable disruption.”
Meanwhile, some 1.3 million unemployed are about to be cut off from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expiring this December 31st in an attempt to save $25 billion.
Left Hand, let me introduce you to Right Hand, as I’m sure you’ve never met before.
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