The United States government, like any large nation, company, or institution of any sort, has a long history of mismanaging money and inefficient use of funds — in a word, waste. The reality of the situation is that the best way to handle fiscal irresponsibility is to address it clearly and outline where the problem is for future reference and for the sake of program reforms. Some examples are obvious and have already been considered in great depth by a number of publications and groups, like the legal expenses of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, or those of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), or the cost to design and fix Healthcare.gov. To better outline this, let’s take a look at accountability reports and audits across departments to see where America’s biggest examples of government waste can be found.
1. Earned income tax and entitlement programs
For our first culprit, we’ll look to an oft-mentioned Republican complaint: the social support programs that are part of America’s welfare system. According to one report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, there were $63 billion worth of improper payments in Earned Income Tax Credits in 2012. The same report went into programs that have helped to mitigate this kind of payment problem, but it also pointed to a need to accurately measure the number of payments that should not have been made, and follow steps toward closing out problematic loopholes and avenues for mistakes. In July 2014, a hearing was held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations to consider how well the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2012 — the purpose of which should be fairly self-explanatory — had been put into practice. Unfortunately not all members of the review were pleased with results of the hearing.
“It’s been over $100 billion for the last five years in a row,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) in an interview with The Fiscal Times. “It’s an amount of money the American people can’t even begin to understand. Nobody can really understand what it would be like to stack up all those bills. CMS and Medicare have, in fact, built a system that is rampant with fraud.”
2. Administrative leave and Veteran Affairs
The Government Accountability Office published a report in October 2014 that outlined paid leave costs. The Veterans Affairs Office in particular is ironic when one considers the $3.1 billion given to federal workers on paid leave over the least three years for employees that have since been shown in separate audits to be waitlisting and then hiding veteran requests for unthinkable time periods, leading to many deaths over a course of years. It’s also notable that the VA, unlike many other federal agencies, gives paid leave for attending union activities. All of these items are not only acceptable but necessary when looked at apart from the office’s other problems, but when considered in tandem, the cost begins to feel very much like waste.
3. Cost of government IT problems
Concern over security and organization or functionality of various government websites is one example of government tech problems (notably the issues with Healthcare.gov). One specific example of money pushed into fixes like this comes from the Department of Defense and the VA. The International Program Office Activity for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed how great a cost was incurred. Specifically efforts to implement and fix the Electronic Health Record system. In total, this tech support effort cost a combined $351. 8 million, according to a report — $220.1 from the DoD and $131.7 from the VA.
4. Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA, like any government agency, is not always as effective or cost efficient as it could be, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office pointed to a number of failures discovered in a July 2014 report. In particular the GAO was critical of how resources were budgeted and allocated, suggesting that more careful planning and efficiency would help reduce the cost of much of its aid.
5. Reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and aid across the border
According to Defense One, the watchdog agency in charge of monitoring funds spent in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has listed a number of potential pitfalls. While well intentioned initiatives were chosen, for example USAID programs to help Afghan women or anti-drug efforts with local police, much like America’s aid in Mexico and other immigration-driving nations, it’s difficult to ensure money is spent how it has been allocated.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told Defense One that problems might arise if money is put toward a purpose, but not enough to actually accomplish something long-term. This might occur if too many things are taken on at once. If contractors are not properly monitored or safety isn’t ensured, it will result in failure. And, of course, corruption is a major concern, as is the ability of those in charge to properly identify and handle the problems Afghan people really need to see dealt with most.
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS
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