One of the infuriating aspects of the current fiscal crisis is that, in countless ways large and small, very few people in Washington behave as if there is a fiscal crisis. The bureaucracy is living high. Money is routinely wasted on the most lavish expenditures. The nation’s capital has become the richest city in America. The number of high-level officials has exploded, and each of them has accumulated a massive retinue of staffers and assistants. President Obama is conspicuously disinterested in doing any belt-tightening, in either his official duties or recreational activities. The lifestyle of the First Family is more appropriate to French royalty of old than the management team of a bankrupt nation teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff.”
Answer this question honestly: if an extraterrestrial observer were to judge America’s financial health based on the perks, retinue, and spending habits of our top officials, would he conclude our federal government was in the throes of a devastating budget crisis? Of course not. He would assume the national government must be swimming in money. A review of our regulatory regime would lead the alien observer to assume we must have an incredibly robust economy bursting with commerce and industry, as well. It would be very difficult to guess the size and wealth of the American private sector based only upon the size of the government it is expected to carry. Political rhetoric is filled with cries of alarm, but in no way does the conduct of the federal government or its court of czars betray any sense that money is tight.
Case in point: Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who invests much effort in chronicling government waste, has just released a report on wasteful spending at the Department of Homeland Security entitled “Safety At Any Price.” Coburn spent a year collecting tales of outrageous waste and abuse… or, as the Senator puts it, “making our nation less secure by directing scarce dollars to low-priority projects and low-risk areas.”
Among other follies, Coburn’s report details a $98,000 underwater robot, purchased by Columbus, Ohio explicitly because they otherwise would have been obliged to return the money to the federal Treasury; armored vehicles deployed to protect pumpkin festivals; expensive remote-controlled aircraft that don’t appear capable of carrying out their alleged counter-terrorism functions; millions wasted on a video surveillance system that didn’t work; and more money blown on sno-cone machines that did.
Various forms of highly dubious citizen “outreach” were funded, including some that would appear to irritate the rest of our massive government’s sensitive ideological underbelly, such as an anti-terrorism video that alerted residents of Jacksonville to watch for “red flags such as people with ‘average or above average intelligence’ or who displayed ‘increased frequency of prayer or religious behavior.’” Not much in the way of empirical evidence for the concrete public safety benefits of such expenditures has been provided.
But for a symbolic crown jewel of Homeland Security waste, it’s hard to beat the “zombie apocalypse training” conducted at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, in which “Strategic Operations, a tactical training firm, was hired to put on a ‘zombie-driven show’ designed to simulate a real-life terrorism event.” The result was a Halloween extravanganza that featured “40 actors dressed as zombies getting gunned down by a military tactical unit.”
Actually, that sounds like so much fun it’s a wonder they had to waste taxpayer money on it. Couldn’t they have just sold tickets?
On previous occasions when government agencies have been criticized for spending tax money on pop-culture frivolities, the response has been that such cultural “outreach” is a good way to engage public attention. A lesson disaster preparedness goes from boring drudgery to awesome Facebook material as soon as a few zombies are added, as the government has taken to doing every Halloween. But these are extravagances a government that truly recognized its own bankruptcy would not consider. To stretch the zombie metaphor a bit more, when you’re rationing food and ammo to keep the walking dead away from your fragile safe haven, you don’t have the resources to spare to stage a circus with target-shooting contests.
Very few people associated with the federal bureaucracy carries on in a manner that suggests they’re living on expensively-financed borrowed money. They’re blowing wads of cash on high living and low pork, while simultaneously telling private-sector America to stop complaining about the impending confiscation of its money… which they portray as a “down payment” on getting closer to a balanced budget, when theynever should have been allowed to operate without one. Give one child a ten-dollar bill, and the other a credit card with a $10,000 limit, and send them both to the mall with instructions to spend no more than ten dollars. We don’t have to guess which one of them is more likely to honor his “budget,” do we?
In no sense is Washington operating as if it faces any “crisis” worse than the next election. They only speak otherwise when they’re trying to browbeat us into giving them a bigger slice of our income. We are told to make do with less… while they won’t make even minor concessions to thrift. Why are we talking about picking any citizen’s pocket, no matter what income bracket he belongs to, as long as luxury and whimsy are still the order of the day for the federal aristocracy? Get us to a year when Senator Coburn says he doesn’t have enough material to produce his annual billion-dollar “Wastebook” before the topic of tax increases is broached. The proper response to any Big Government acolyte who claims that the first dollar of spending cuts must come from the hides of cops and firefighters is derisive laughter.