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.
(The following piece, which first appeared on October 4, 2012, has been re-printed with permission from the Chattanooga Times Free Press) We’ve all heard that EPB can provide a gigabit of Internet service. Supposedly a constant stream of mind-bogglingly fast Internet that delivers a billion bits of Internet excitement per second is available — for a price — to every home and business in a 600 square mile area. The promise of the gig is trumpeted on billboards across the city and on TV ads during almost every commercial break. The gig has become such a prevalent force in Chattanooga that city officials and community leaders are working to rebrand Chattanooga as the Gig City, for goodness sake. With all the focus on the gig, you’d think EPB would be excited to show the service off. Strangely, however, it seems more people have seen a virgin at a brothel than have seen the gig in action for any extended time. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What if it’s all a hoax? One big fat lie? What if EPB can’t actually provide a gigabit of constant Internet service?
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.”
Earlier this week, TPA posted a blog that discussed a new, nearly unprecedented effort on part of the Treasury Department to recoup taxpayer money that had been “awarded” to now-bankrupt green energy. While so far Treasury has only sought out one company to return its government funding, we should not downplay what a significant, noteworthy step the feds are making. One of the chief selling points of the astronomically expensive so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was that it would immediately create hundreds upon thousands of “shovel ready” jobs. Over three years from its date of enactment and with an unemployment rate that has remained well above 8 percent, there’s no question that, by and large, these supposedly shovel ready jobs never came. There are several reasons for this, but the one this blog will address is the fact that many of the companies who received government money have not used it. A recent article in the Boston Herald provides more information about two such companies.
Today, a coalition of taxpayer and free market groups sent a letter (read letter here) to the Senate as they complete work on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. The letter urges stricter oversight of the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, which was established by Congress as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. Its primary goal is to provide loans to help bring Internet broadband service to unserved rural communities, which are generally defined as communities with populations of less than 20,000. RUS has had a history of approving loans to companies who build broadband systems in areas that are already served. And, the areas where these companies build are often already served by multiple private broadband providers. According to a report by the USDA on April 23, 2012, “We found that RUS had not maintained its focus on rural communities most in need of Federal assistance. This is largely because its definition of ‘rural area,’ although within the statutory guidelines, was too broad to distinguish between suburban and rural communities. As a result, RUS issued over $103.4 million in loans to 64 communities near large cities.”
Yesterday was tax day which gave millions of taxpayers heartache as they rushed to finish their taxes. It also gave people time to reflect on how the federal government spends their hard earned money. The ways government spends money ranges from the necessary such as defense spending to the ludicrous such as the General Services Administration’s Las Vegas vacation (read previous blog posting here). One area of government spending that has become a hot topic of debate lately is that of the government’s role in building publically financed broadband networks. According to The New Republic, the nation’s telecommunications companies are “keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.” This couldn’t be further from the truth and it has been all levels of government that have failed and it is the private sector that has invested hundreds of billions in infrastructure to bring the Internet and broadband to as many people as possible.
From the satirical Golden Fleece Awards bestowed by the late Sen. William Proxmire to the legendary $640 toilet seat purchased by the Pentagon (and the more recent request for federal funding of a cowboy poetry festival), Americans are no strangers to wasteful government spending. There is no shortage of examples of goofy programs politicians want to pay for with tax dollars. Government-funded research is one large area of questionable spending. When Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) uncovered that taxpayers paid $593,000 to research why chimps like to throw their poop, some folks may have laughed. But the tens of millions of dollars being spent for similarly specious research into the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is no laughing matter.