Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yes, there is some waste, fraud, and abuse to be cut

Although it has become a cliche to talk about saving money in the federal budget by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse," that doesn't mean that there isn't any waste, fraud, or abuse to cut in the federal budget. The Washington Examiner points to duplication of services and wasteful spending in all the federal jobs program.
The myth is that the federal budget really cannot be cut except on the margins because government programs are managed efficiently, with minimal waste, fraud and abuse, and they deliver essential services that cannot be provided any other way. Two reports focusing on federal job training programs -- one from the Government Accountability Office and the other from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- that were made public Wednesday put the lie to such claims. Nine federal agencies simultaneously operated at least 47 work force training programs at a cost of $18 billion in 2009. That total represented a $5 billion increase since 2003, thanks to added funding from Obama's economic stimulus program.
And then they give some examples of how money has been misspent.
-Grants to an admitted thief: In West Virginia, Martin Bowling -- an admitted thief with a long rap sheet -- was the main beneficiary of a $100,000 federal worker training grant, and was put up for another federal job training grant worth $1 million by his mother, a state official at the time.

-Tampa Bay binge: The Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance in Florida used federal job training funds for lunches at Hooters, valet parking for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (topped with $9 dollar slices of cheesecake), $20 delivery fees for cupcakes, $443.99 on flowers, 300 koozie drink holders and more.

-$4 for bureaucrats, $1 for workers: A Montana trade union that was supposed to manage a half-million-dollar federal job retraining grant spent four times as much on salaries as it did training displaced workers.

-Ghost employees: A U.S. Department of Labor official approved fraudulent invoices for ghost employees in exchange for cash bribes and a vehicle paid for by a Jobs Corps contractor.

-Job training executives frequent casinos during work hours: Iowa work force executives conspired to enrich themselves with $1.8 million in bonuses -- paid for with federal funds -- while engaging in sexual relationships and frequenting casinos during work.
Of course, these are the egregiously horrifying examples. We're not hearing the success stories. But what is disturbing is that the GAO can't even figure out if any of these programs are succeeding.
"Only five programs have had an impact study completed since 2004 to assess whether outcomes resulted from the program and not some other cause. Almost all federal employment and training programs, including those with broader missions such as multipurpose block grants, overlap with at least one other program in that they provide similar services to similar populations." These results emphasize the truth of Coburn's observation that "we create new programs with great fanfare, then never bother to measure their effectiveness."
Can you imagine private business setting up similar programs without any examination to see what the outcomes are? With the federal government, outcomes never seem to be as important as inputs.