If businesses wasted money like the government there would be no private sector. No company could afford to operate. The Federal Government doesn’t have to turn a profit. It can shut itself on and off as funding comes and goes. It doesn’t worry or care about its bottom line as long as Americans are paying taxes and if we don’t pay our taxes, we go to jail. Our government can pretty much do what it chooses and wasting money is one of the things it does best.
Waste means a lot more than improper payments and fraud. It means agencies spending our tax dollars with no goals, no benchmarks, no milestones, no way to measure progress, and no accountability for complying with legislation to keep them in line.
How well do our federal employees put our money to work?
IRS doesn’t know if its corporate compliance program is worth the effort.
A Government Accountability Office report looked at the IRS’s Compliance Assurance Process (“CAP”) program, developed in 2005 to streamline corporate tax collections. This is something the administration should be jumping on, considering the president’s views on corporate greed. Nine years after CAP commenced:
Contrary to its guidelines, IRS has not evaluated whether the goals are being achieved or the process should be expanded.1
Some goals do not have measures and none have targets.2
With problems identified and the IRS vowing corrective action:
It is too early to tell whether IRS’s efforts will work.3
Once the IRS gets around to collecting that ill-gotten corporate tax revenue, how do we spend it?
Do dead farmers need farm assistance?
While the war over the Farm Bill raged in Washington another report discussed the funds shelled out year after year to support farming. The USDA Farm Service Agency found that from 2011-2012 it paid out $3.3 million improperly to dead beneficiaries.4 Another USDA agency made an estimated $10.6 million in payments to 1,103 deceased recipients from 2008-2012 and doesn’t know how many of the payments were correct or improper because it does not check.5
For those farmers receiving subsidies who are still alive, is our agency in charge of protecting their homeland also protecting our tax dollars?
Homeland Security knows what public money is good for.
As one of the largest federal agencies, Homeland Security knows how to spend your money:
We identified 42 programs that experienced cost growth, schedule slips, or both, with 16 of the programs’ costs increasing from a total of $19.7 billion in 2008 to $52.2 billion in 2011—an aggregate increase of 166 percent.6
From wasting billions on the now-defunct SBInet, to confusion over metrics for measuring border security (see: Washington Doesn’t Believe in Border Security), to TSA problems implementing new technology to make the skies safer, DHS proves that the bigger government gets, the harder it is to plan how much money it needs. Is the problem because Homeland Security has too much on its plate? It certainly seems competent when it comes to helping illegal immigrants with programs like Deferred Action. How about its role in helping to oversee federal cybersecurity?
Are federal agencies protecting the information systems we pay for?
Cybersecurity legislation fell by the wayside long ago despite Democratic threats of an IT apocalypse. Having Washington spearhead a cybersecurity initiative for the private sector seemed overreaching at the time, given our government’s legendary problems with computer security and information systems.
Shortcomings persist in assessing risks, developing and implementing security programs, and monitoring results at federal agencies. This is due in part to the fact that agencies have not fully implemented information security programs, resulting in reduced assurance that controls are in place and operating as intended to protect their information resources.7
Don’t we have laws to enforce cybersecurity? The following is from a report on 24 agencies’ compliance with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act nearly a decade after the fact:
The extent to which agencies implemented security program components showed mixed progress from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012. For example, according to inspectors general reports, the number of agencies that had analyzed, validated, and documented security incidents increased from 16 to 19, while the number able to track identified weaknesses declined from 20 to 15.8
There is government waste that happens in the course of doing business and waste that comes from employing federal workers who provide no value. Some of the least valuable employees are the ones who make their living in the House and Senate coming up with the laws and regulations sold to the public as safeguards against government wasting our tax dollars. Fortunately for Congress, there is no way to measure their success at what they claim to be doing, either.