Human Events Blog

The Case of the Disappearing Billions

The federal government spent about three and a half trillion dollars last year.  It is the official position of the Democrat Party that not a single dime of that spending can be cut.  When pressured to make spending cuts, the Left invariably sighs and trots out policemen and teachers as the first to be sacrificed, claiming there is no fat to be found anywhere else.

I think Darrell Issa (R-CA) just found $125 billion we can cut right away.  Or, more to the point, he can’t find it, and neither can anyone else.

Issa is the ranking Republican member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and proud owner of the coolest Twitter avatar in Washington.  On Tuesday, he issued a press release concerning an Office of Management and Budget report that revealed $125 billion of the taxpayers’ money has vanished into a pit of “institutionalized waste, fraud, and abuse.”  The government blew the money on “improper payments” during fiscal 2010.  It’s not the first time this has happened.  They wasted $110 billion the year before.

That’s a lot of cabbage to improperly toss around, and Issa is not happy about it.  “The first place we should look to make progress on higher costs, increased debt and a stagnant economy is look inward at how taxpayer dollars are being spent and doing more to ensure that tens of billions of dollars are no longer erroneously paid out,” he said.

This money was hosed away by the same high council of geniuses that insists on the right to control your health care, reduce your carbon footprint, and even prevent you from using cell phones in your cars.  If you haven’t heard about the latter, intrepid Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been kicking around the idea of mandating cell phone jammers in cars, to keep drivers from being distracted by their phones.  I wonder how much that mandate would cost to enforce, never mind comply with.  According to a recent OSHA report, the other top distractions for drivers are fiddling with the radio or air conditioning, eating, and talking to passengers or children.  How much funding does Secretary LaHood need to rip out our car radios, install IV feeding tubes, and wrap our passengers in cellophane?  And how much of that budget would be “erroneously paid out?”

The federal government is incompetent on a massive scale, and every stupid thing it does wastes gigantic sums of money.  Writing in Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward tells us the government spends millions promoting increased cheese consumption, and more millions warning people not to eat cheese.  Wait, it gets better: it’s the same government agency.  I don’t even think these were counted as “improper expenditures” in the OMB report Darrell Issa was talking about.

Another appalling money pit is the United States Postal Service, which Issa wrote about in a weekend editorial for the Washington Times.  The basic problem is simple enough: people don’t send as much mail as they used to, and they have alternatives like UPS and Federal Express for parcel delivery.  For the benefit of young readers, I should explain that “mail” used to involve putting pieces of paper in envelopes, and sealing them with wax dripped from candles, which we stamped with our signet rings.  These days it’s all done instantly by computer, so Postal Service revenues are dropping steadily, to the tune of just over 9 percent last year.  They’re looking at a $7 billion loss in 2011.

When revenues go down, a rational business reduces costs.  As Issa explains in his editorial, 80% of the Postal Service’s costs come from labor.  Reducing cost would therefore mean laying off postal workers… but they’re unionized, and they’re not going anywhere.  The union won’t even allow its workers to be reassigned to other sectors of the government.  They have every reason to hunker down and wait for the inevitable taxpayer bailout.  The postal lobby and their Democrat allies think $75 billion sounds about right.  That means people who don’t send snail mail anymore will be paying seventy-five billion dollars to subsidize the right of postal employees to sit around and do nothing… and that won’t be part of the OMB’s total for “improper payments,” either.

Still think there’s no fat jiggling around the waistline of this bloated government?  On the contrary, there’s so much it’s hard to know where to begin the liposuction.  I suggest we start with the utter waste, then move on to the total stupidity.


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