Although the current state of the federal government comes up short a lot of the time, there are a few redeeming glimmers of hope every now and then. More times than not, those glimmers come from an entity of government that’s asked to check up on, monitor, and audit other components and arms of the federal government. These beacons of fiscal responsibility are the Inspector Generals (IGs). IGs are extremely helpful to taxpayers for a variety of reasons, and they certainly strike a fear in whichever agency that’s the one under the microscope. For example, just recently the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) IG found that a “Michigan battery-maker that received a visit from President Obama spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus grant money for workers to do things like watch movies and play cards, according to an inspector general report that blames poor management by the Energy Department. The wasted labor is a system of more widespread mismanagement of the company’s $151 million matching grant…”
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance joined with 30 other groups across the political spectrum to urge conferees to retain Section 844 of the Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act which would apply the stimulus and general corporate whistleblower standards to some $1.9 trillion of annual federal spending for government contracts, grants and Medicare. Whistleblowers have always been the first line of defense against waste, fraud, and abuse. The existing patchwork of laws contains gaping accountability loopholes, protecting only some contractors and federal-fund recipient employees who blow the whistle, and only under very limited circumstances. Specifically, Section 844 would prohibit reprisals for disclosures to appropriate federal entities related to the implementation or use of federal funds regarding gross mismanagement, gross waste, substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, abuse of authority, or a violation of a law, rule, or regulation. It would protect the most common disclosures made by employees seeking to fix a problem—those made to a supervisor or internal compliance program.
Members of Congress often talk a good game about being guardians of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, many politicians don’t follow their words with action. In a rare, but welcomed development, four members of Congress sent a letter to Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling earlier this week about $1 million of taxpayer dollars spent as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus) for broadband deployment. In the letter, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Greg Walden (R-Oregon), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) explained that, “We are troubled by reports that the FCC and NTIA spent more than $1 million in taxpayer ‘stimulus’ dollars on broadband speed tests that produced no American jobs and merely reaffirmed what we already knew: the billions in private capital that broadband providers have invested to reach 95 percent of the country is delivering rapidly accelerating service. Now the FCC plans to expand this speed-test program to mobile broadband services.” This issue, like all the other stimulus boondoggles, is that the “stimulus” failed to create jobs, but succeeded in wasting taxpayer dollars. What makes this example of stimulus waste even more egregious than most is that taxpayer money went to SamKnows, a U.K. company, which according to Recovery.gov created no jobs.
No different than President Roosevelt’s Work Programs Administration (WPA), President Obama’s $788 billion stimulus program sought to create jobs for the sole sake of creating jobs – not because the economy actually demanded the jobs. But unlike the WPA, which actually succeeded in employing three million people, Obama’s “stimulus” has failed to create many jobs at all. And of the few produced, they’ve certainly not been the “shovel-ready” ones he promised. Additionally, the jobs evaporate as quickly as your tax dollars vanish before your eyes. After all, if the jobs were legitimate – necessary to occupy a void not already fulfilled in the existing market – then the private sector would have already been on the scene and stepped up to the plate long before the government got there with a plan to waste your money. One of the best examples of government making jobs for the purpose of making jobs is the nearly $1.5 million that went to build a bus station – you read that correctly, bus “station,” not to improve a bus “system” – in Manitowoc, a sleepy Wisconsin town. Manitowoc with a population of roughly 33,000 people has bus station, which hardly could be characterized in a significant – if at all – state of disrepair. In fact according to the town’s local paper, the existing structure could use only minimal updates like fixing wheel chair ramps and mending a leaky ceiling. But the really deplorable component of the building is that it has a “windowless basement.” The horror! Had Manitowoc chosen the responsible path and opted to make minor improvements to the perfectly functioning, existing station, it’s inconceivable that those improvements could have cost over $1 million.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been reporting on the many ways that money through The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka Stimulus Bill) has been spent. In 2011, TPA Senior Fellow Drew Johnson wrote about The Miccosukee Corporation, the business arm of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, which pocketed a $20,785 stimulus handout to subsidize a summer youth employment program. The program hired five kids to perform jobs including cashier, handyman and alligator wrestler at the Tribe’s Miccosukee Indian Village (read full story here). As first reported by The Washington Times on Tuesday August 21, 2012, and subsequently by Fox News on August 22, taxpayers funded a $495,000 stimulus grant to purchase ads on MSNBC to promote green jobs training. According to The Washington Times article, “Spending reports under the federal Recovery Act show $495,000 paid to McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations LLC, which the Labor Department hired to raise awareness ‘among employers and influencers about the [Job Corps] program’s existing and new training initiatives in high growth and environmentally friendly career areas’ as well as spreading the word to prospective Job Corps enrollees. The firm ultimately negotiated ad buys for ‘two approved spots’ airing 14 times per week for two months on ‘Countdown With Keith Olbermann’ and ‘The Rachel Maddow Show,’ according to a project report, which listed the number zero under a section of the report asking how many jobs had been created through the stimulus contract.” Since the story first broke, numerous news outlets have picked up on the story (read here, here, here, and here)
With unemployment still above 8 percent, Americans are understandably focused on job creation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka Stimulus Bill) was supposed to be the salvation of the American workforce. Unfortunately, all that was created was more government bureaucracy and more wasted money. A recent article on Breitbart.com highlighted a report released by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that deals with another failure of government, job training. The oversight report, “What Works (and What Doesn’t): The Good, Bad and Ugly of Federal Job Training in Oklahoma,” identified and brought to light many of the realities and inherent shortcomings that often plague government-orchestrated job programs. In his piece, Breitbart’s Wynton Hall begins by revealing one of the most alarming discoveries of Coburn’s report. Hall writes “billions of taxpayer dollars are being poured into job training programs that benefit those who run them, not the unemployed workers they are supposed to assist.”