Washington Waste – dumb uses of taxpayer money

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) has again issued his annual “Wastebook”  containing 100 of the dumbest uses of taxpayers’ money:

  • the National Endowment for the Humanities devoted almost $1 million to the Popular Romance Project to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”
  • The National Science Foundation spent a quarter of a million dollars to study “attitudes toward the Senate filibuster among the American public.”
  • The Army spent nearly $300 million on a blimp for surveillance in Afghanistan—only to drop the project after its inaugural U.S. flight, selling the airship back to its maker for $301,000.
  • The International Trade Association devoted nearly $300,000 to send Indi Rock music executives on a tour to Brazil.
  • The National Institutes for Health dropped $335,525 on a study which determined that “marriages that were the happiest were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly during marital conflict.”
  • The $1.9 million Senate Office of Education and Training provides classes for staffers on such subjects as sleeping well and making small talk.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts used $10,000 to underwrite the PowerUP Project, which featured choreographed (utility) pole dancing.
  • Housing and Urban Development used $1.2 million to create an apartment designed for the deaf in Tempe, Arizona, only to then decide that three-quarters of the residences should be occupied by people with normal hearing.
  • The Agriculture Department gave an Oklahoma winery $200,000 to purchase new equipment.
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services gave a New York museum $150,000 to create an exhibit on play.
  • NSF spent $2.9 million to create sites “where arts and science will be used to educate the public about Indianapolis’s water system.”
  • The Commerce Department provided Las Vegas with $800,000 to think about economic development.
  • The U.S. Marshals Service dropped nearly $800,000 on promotional “swag,” including Christmas ornaments.

Is this where food stamps should go?

A woman called to check her food stamp balance. It was about $400 because she didn’t know she was still getting benefits. She tweeted that she “might let them build up and sell them.” After all, she has a cable bill of $140 to pay.

She has an iPhone (how much does that cost per month?), WiFi, and “needs to smoke me a joint” so she is going to call her “weed man.”

Her air conditioner is cranked up high “It’s soooo cold in my house. Everybody keep telling me to turn the AC off.”

She has money to spend at Hooters, IHOP, and TGIF Fridays. “I needed to take myself out. I had a rough week.” She is going to buy a new iPad for her mother.

All this we know via her Tweets. What more don’t we know about this food stamp recipient?

Should these bureaucrats be shut down permanently?

Bureaucrats at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service average $120,000 in pay and here are some of the things they buy for themselves with their federal purchase cards:

  • leased a $53,000 car for private use
  • rented a storage locker near a top officer’s home – filled with the employee’s personal goods
  • ditto, a storage area for a second employee’s goods. Nobody at the agency had keys for either storage area.
  • $58,000 to what appears to be a sham company set up by one of the top officers, and which did absolutely nothing
  • hundreds of dollars every month for phone, internet, and cell service for one employee at his home office, his second home, and for his wife

The FMCS is one more example of Mitchell’s First Theorem, that government is a racket for the enrichment of bureaucrats.

Are the youth anti-government?

The Atlantic has an interesting article about the Millennial generation, the 95 million Americans born between 1982 and 2003. Here are some snippets:

  • They don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world. So they are rejecting public service as a career path.
  • “Politics just doesn’t seem relative to a lot of us and our world. [T]ell me one big thing that has come out of Washington. Results are important to us, and sadly, politics isn’t a place for results.”
  • Millennials believe traditional politics and government (especially Washington) are the worst avenues to great things.
  • 51 percent of Millennials believe that when government runs something it is usually wasteful and inefficient, up from 31 percent in 2003 and 42 percent in 2009.
  • 86 percent of Millennials support private Social Security accounts and 74 percent would change Medicare so people can buy private insurance. Sixty-three percent believe free trade is a good thing. Only 38 percent of Millennials support affirmative action.


Eliminating the Middleman

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. — Albert Einstein

Lower costs, improved outcomes, better consumer experience – isn’t that what we would all like in health care? That’s not just a dream – it is the actual result of a growing number of physicians you might label “Do-it-yourself Health Reformers”. They haven’t been waiting around for politicians to fix the broken health care payment system; they have been implementing new models for the practice of health care.

Improved outcomes? How about 91% of patients achieving their target blood pressure within 6 months? (Compared to a national average of less than 50% of patients.) How about being named one of only four Cardiovascular Centers of Excellence in the state?

These physicians focus on keeping patients healthy and out of the expensive parts of the health care system, such as specialist offices, emergency departments, and hospitals. ER visits are down 62%, specialist referrals are down 55%, advanced radiology down by 48% and surgeries down by 73%.

The net result of better primary care was a savings of 20% to 30% in overall health care costs. Customers of this new model of health care delivery provided their employees a better health benefit and also saved 20% compared to what they had been paying. How often do you hear about health care costs actually going down?

Or consider this case. A diabetic woman had been spending $5,000 per year on medical care. When she switched doctors, her new doctor reported that “When she arrived her HGBA1C was 11.9 – meaning very poorly controlled. One year later her A1C was 6.8 (well controlled) and she had only spent about $450 for an entire year of care with us – including the annual physical, all of her follow-up visits, all of her lab work and ancillaries.”

So how do these doctors deliver better health care at lower cost? The answer is surprisingly simple: They eliminate the middle man between doctor and patient, i.e. the insurance company or government (Medicaid or Medicare). Removing the bureaucracy from the mix cuts 40% of fat out of the process. Not just money, it saves paperwork and frustration, leaving more time for the doctor and patient.

A traditional primary care practice has a large staff just to deal with the paperwork. The national average is 3.9 non-medical staff members per doctor or nurse. A typical Direct Primary Care (DPC) practice has just one staff member for two doctors. Some have zero staff. This reduction in overhead allows a DPC physician to charge much lower fees yet still spend more time with each patient.

Many DPC practices provide lab services in-house, further reducing costs and providing better service to their patients. Most negotiate with lab companies. The lab companies offer huge discounts for avoiding the time and hassle of billing insurance companies or the government. One DPC physician reported that he could get a cholesterol test for $3 versus the $90 the lab would have billed an insurance company. An MRI was $400 compared to a typical rate of $2,000.

In addition to primary care, most DPC offices also provide urgent care such as stitches or casts, handling many of the same problems as an emergency room. They provide treatment for about 80% of health care needs.

Most DPC providers operate on a mixture of monthly membership fee, typically $75 per month, and per visit charges. Members receive an annual exam, a discount on fees, and access by phone or email. About a third of the patients are uninsured, some because they cannot afford insurance premiums, others due to preexisting conditions such as diabetes. Ironically, uninsured patients at a DPC practice receive better service than insured patients at a traditional practice.

Insurance is a terribly inefficient way to pay for most health care. Primary care, even including occasional urgent care, is relatively affordable – much more affordable than the insurance premiums. It is more economical to pay the doctor and nurse, than it is to pay the doctor and nurse, and pay their non-medical staff to process paperwork, also pay the insurance company staff to process paperwork, and also pay the insurance company profits.

The most sensible way to pay for health care is with a high-deductible catastrophic policy that we hope we never need to use, put the huge savings in premium cost into a Health Savings Account (HSA), then pay a DPC physician via a debit card from the HSA. There is much, much less overhead, the DPC practice spends more time keeping patients healthy, resulting in lower costs for specialists, surgery, or hospital care.

What doctors enjoy is interacting with patients, solving problems, helping their patients stay healthy. What they hate is paperwork, overhead, and a bureaucracy pushing them to spend less time with patients. They are so frustrated by middleman-governed health care that 9 out of 10 are unwilling to recommend health care as a profession.

DPC eliminates the paperwork, overhead and bureaucracy, leaving doctors happily working to improve their patients’ health. These doctors say “I am finally back to practicing medicine the way I was trained.” And that is the major reason that surveys show that 16% of primary care physicians plan to move to DPC or other retainer-based practice.

14,000 wind turbines abandoned and slowly decaying

Built only for the tax credits, abandoned when the tax credits run out, why is nobody clamoring to have the mess cleaned up?

In most instances the turbines are just left as symbols of a dying Climate Religion. Nowhere have the Green Environmentalists appeared to clear up their mess or even complain about the abandoned wind farms.

More energy – mostly from fossil fuels – was consumed building these windmills then they ever produced.

Alameda County, California, reported that one wind turbine project alone killed 10,000 birds, including hundreds of eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons.

The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.


Government blocks relief to tornado victims

Bureaucrats with U.S. Customs have stopped a truckload of donated foods, blankets, and diapers from reaching the victims of the Oklahoma tornado “until every item on board is itemized in alphabetical order and has the country of origin of every product noted.”

Volunteers around Windsor, Canada gathered more than 40,000 pounds of supplies, and obtained the loan of a refrigerated truck. They planned to be on their way to Oklahoma last Wednesday but days later U.S. officials are demanding more paperwork before the truck will be allowed into the U.S.

Once again, the government manages to hurt the very people who most need help.

Billions wasted by government

Of course, the government doesn’t really need con artists to help it waste money. It is perfectly capable of wasting money without help. Here are a few examples.

  • funding a reality TV show in India
  • studying swine manure in China
  • losing $84 million a year subsidizing food service on Amtrak trains
  • improper food stamp payments totaling $2.5 billion
  • fixing a covered bridge that has not been used in 10 years

and a few more:

  • $30 million helping Pakistani mango farmers
  • $120 million in benefits to federal employees who have died
  • $10 million for Pakistani Sesame Street
  • $700,000 to bring TV to Vietnam villages

And here is Sen. Coburn’s worst 100 list.

Billions bilked from the government

Do you remember a few months ago the story of a kindly cop giving a pair of boots to a barefoot homeless guy? Well it turns out the guy was nothing but a scam artist. He had an apartment, at least 30 pairs of shoes, and a pretty good cash income.

The same thing happens on a much larger scale with out government. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that fraudulent Medicare payments amount to at least $17 billion per annum. Other estimates run as high as $110 billion.

The prescription-drug benefit is “staggeringly complicated and largely incomprehensible to the very population it was intended to help . . .the drug program’s very complexity is a source of fraud.”

In the current jobless “recovery” millions of people file for disability after their unemployment runs out. Many of the claims might be personality disorders or imaginary illnesses but the result is a record 18 million people collecting $170 billion each year.

Fictitious patients, organized crime, sham companies, kickbacks – as long as the paperwork is properly filled out it is all too easy to bilk taxpayer money from the government. The GAO estimates $100 billion per year cost to the taxpayer.

Outdated laws waste billions

Do we really need a Rural Electrification Administration? Created in 1935 when only 11% of farms had electricity, surely it reached its goal when almost every farm had electricity more than 60 years ago. Renamed the Rural Utilities Service almost 20 years ago, today it consumes $578 million of taxpayer money.

That is just one example of laws and regulations that might have made sense when first created long ago. Now in very different times does it make sense to have farm subsidies that mostly go to millionaires and billionaires?

When you go to the store, do you worry that the price of raisins is too low? Should the government make the price higher? Fear not, the Raisin Administrative Committee is on the job. This is another 1930s agency which orders farmers to turn over 47% of their crop to the government. Why? Don’t ask me.

Three quarters of voters believe that obsolete laws and regulations waste billions of dollars. More than 9 out of 10 think that it would be a god idea to review all regulations at least once every ten years to make sure they work.

Obama Recycles Failed Policies

Waste billions more taxpayer dollars on the same failed “green” energy programs. That is Obama’s “solution” to rising gas prices. He “keeps dusting off the same tired old proposals — the very ones that have failed repeatedly in practice.”

Investor’s Business Daily suggests that “Before we let Obama take us for a drive down another fantasy lane, let’s review the results of his last bold effort to transform our energy economy.”

In 2009, Obama used the economic crisis as an excuse to pump $90 billion into grants, loans and tax credits for solar panel companies, battery makers, electric car startups, wind turbines and the like.

As today, he promised that this “investment’ would create new sources of energy, new jobs, and lower energy costs.

What did we get?

Solar panel maker Solyndra crashed and burned, taking $535 million in guaranteed loans with it. Battery maker A123 Systems filed for bankruptcy protection, after getting $249 million in grants. Fisker got huge loans for a promised electric car it never delivered.

And what about the promised new jobs? Businessweek analyzed records from the Department of Energy and determined that its $21 billion program produced at best 29,000 jobs – almost 3/4 million dollars per job. Even worse was the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which spent almost $10 million for each job it “created”.

You paid for this

The government spent:

  • $140,000 to study pig feces in China
  • $100,000 on a videogame about aliens saving planets from climate change
  • $88,000 to send the comedy show “Make Chai, not War” to India
  • $55,000 on a study to find the link between immaturity and heavy drinking in your 30s

via John Stossel.

My all-time favorite study was “Why do shirt collars fray?” A pundit responded, “Because we pay so much in taxes for stupid studies that we can’t afford to buy new shirts.”

Plenty of waste to sequester

The sequester is a mere 2% of the federal budget. If they really wanted to cut spending don’t you think they just might be able to find 2% of waste in that enormous budget. How about they start by trimming these items:

  1. $2,908,000 for shrimp aquaculture research
  2. $1,454,000 for mosquito trapping research
  3. $4,841,000 for wood utilization research
  4. $2,573,000 for potato research
  5. $775,000 for “Pickle Science and Technology”
  6. $500,000 for helicopter logging
  7. $600,000 for a “gurgling toad sculpture” in DoD building
  8. $8.3 million for golf course renovation in Louisiana
  9. $1.4 million for decorative rocks in Nevada
  10. $500,000 for food at Justice Department banquets
  11. $1 million for sugar cain research center in Louisiana
  12. $623 million for the National Endowment for the arts
  13. $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings.
  14. $200 million for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
  15. $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
  16. $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
  17. $75 million for “smoking cessation activities.”
  18. $18 million to rebuild recovery.gov website
  19. $461 million for “salmon restoration”
  20. $480 million for a “redundant” F-35 engine
  21. $15 million for a “Barbasol museum”
  22. $19 million for a “Free clam benefit” for people who have never eaten clams
  23. $10 million for attorneys of illegal immigrants
  24. $700,000 for a bike trail in Minnesota
  25. $1 million for a river walk in Massachusetts
  26. $213,000 for olive fruit fly research in…France
  27. $200,000 for a hunting and fishing museum in Pennsylvania
  28. $200,000 for a post office museum in Las Vegas
  29. $350,000 for “Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Inc.”
  30. $150,000 for turf grass research
  31. $10 million to connect a dead-end street to I-75
  32. $11.4 billion for Amtrack bailout
  33. $1.5 billion for the Metro Transit system in Washington D.C.
  34. $1.2 million to study the habits of the woodchuck
  35.   $150,000 to study the Hatfield-McCoy feud
  36. $1 million to study why people don’t ride bikes to work
  37. $219,000 to teach college students how to watch television
  38. $3.1 million to convert a ferry boat into a crab restaurant in Baltimore
  39. $13 million to repair a privately owned dam in South Carolina
  40. $4.3 million for a privately owned museum in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
  41. $2.7 million for a catfish farm in Arkansas
  42. $500,000 for a swimming pool in Banning, Calif
  43. $500 million to bail out ship building company
  44. $2 million for “kitchen relocation” in Fairbanks, Alaska
  45. $1.5 million to “transport naturally chilled water” from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga
  46. $167,000 for “Horn fly research” in Alabama
  47. $450,000 for the Baseball Hall of Fame
  48. $11 million to buy “business attire” for job seekers
  49. $750,000 for a soccer field at Guantanamo Bay
  50. $15 million on Internal Revenue Service public relations efforts

The author reports that he found this $22 billion of savings in about 40 minutes. Don’t you think the politicians in Washington could find $85 billion of non-essential spending in a couple days time?

No, the Obama administration will try to find the most painful things to cut so as to put pressure on for no cuts at all.

What’s more realistic: A unicorn, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or a successful government program?

So asks Dan Mitchell in his excellent blog, International Liberty. He writes that Head Start is yet another costly government failure. By the government’s own research “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade.” A follow on study looked at the same set of children at 3rd grade. It again concluded that Head Start is ineffective.

Electronic medical records – a cure worse than the disease

The ballyhooed effects of electronic record keeping have not only failed to materialize, it appears that they are wasting time. One overworked Family Doctor hates them; they slow her down. A physician at another hospital reports that the system is terrible “but there was so much money on offer that they couldn’t say no.” The doctors “see fewer patients per shift than they did previously, and spend less time with each one.”

The bureaucrats and politicians are always oh so confident in their own great ideas. This time they decided to spend $19 billion to bribe doctors and hospitals to adopt these ill-thought-out systems. Ideas that work so well in the politicians’ fantasy world often fail in the real world.

Only the Federal government …

Only the Federal government could come up with a program that pays people millions of dollars to waste millions of dollars.

A cargo train filled with biofuels crossed the border between the US and Canada 24 times between the 15th of June and the 28th of June 2010; not once did it unload its cargo, yet it still earned millions of dollars.”

A total waste of time, money, and energy all in the name of a “green-energy” program.

Read the article.