In his book Free to Choose, Milton Friedman describes four degrees of relative conscientiousness exhibited by people when spending money. When they spend their own money on themselves, they are mindful of their needs and endeavor to maximize the value of the dollars spent. When they spend their own money on someone else, they tend to be less mindful of the content of the purchase but quite mindful about the amount being spent. When they spend someone else’s money on themselves, they tend to be less scrupulous and perhaps even extravagant, but when they spend someone else’s money on someone else, they tend not to be concerned with the money at all. Friedman teaches that government spending is in this fourth category (spending someone else’s money, taxpayers, on someone else, special interests). It should come as no surprise, then, that our enormous government, the largest and most expensive in the world, wastes billions of dollars every year. It may come as a surprise, however, that the waste is so obvious, yet no one is acting to stop it.
On July 10, John Spoke, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said that he was “deeply troubled” that the military spent $34 million on building a massive command headquarters in the Southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan for troops who were never deployed there. He wrote the military high command at the Pentagon: “This facility was designed for a military division that was never deployed and, subsequently, a decision was made not to construct the facility, but inexplicably the building construction started and is now complete.”
But lest you think grossly negligent spending is limited to the military, think again. The federal government owns or leases over 55,000 vacant properties in the United States. There is no precise inventory because the federal government is so massive, disorganized, and unaccountable that no single person knows for sure the precise number of vacant properties owned or leased by Uncle Sam. Conservative estimates of the cost of the vacant properties to taxpayers do exist, however. Retention of the properties is estimated to cost between $3 and $8 billion annually with maintenance costs for these buildings running upwards of $25 billion to date after all expenses, including the administrative, are taken into account.
Rather than end the leases and sell the properties, the federal government keeps them all, paying for them year after year, and doing so for decades.
In 2006, then Senator Barack Obama joined Senators Tom Coburn and Tom Carper at a field hearing entitled, “Big Ticket Waste: Are Empty Federal Buildings Emptying the Taxpayers’ Wallets.” Obama joined in the condemnation of the federal government’s wasteful spending on tens of thousands of vacant properties. Having been in a position since 2008 to do something about what he earlier condemned, the President has done nothing at all.
Instead, the profligate spending characterized by the feds owning and leasing empty properties is just the tip of a very large ice berg. This month Judicial Watch revealed that Attorney General Eric Holder accrued $4,263,704.01 in total travel expenses between March 27, 2009, and August 24, 2012. Of that, $697,525.20 were taxpayer-funded personal trips, 31 in number. For example, Judicial Watch reports that Attorney General Holder took two personal trips to Martha’s Vienyard with a flight only price tag of $95,184.50, as well as 8 personal trips to Farmingdale, New York, at a flight only cost of $118,553.71.
The President too has no problem adding to taxpayers’ burdens with hugely expensive trips billed as the nation’s business that often involve considerable entertainment value for him and his family. His June 26 week long trip to sub-Saharan Africa, of no political necessity and largely a junket, cost taxpayers about $100 million. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the President bemoans that the modest sequester cuts are forcing him to cancel public visits to the White House. $100 million would certainly pay for decades of public visits to the White House.
The entire federal government is rife with examples of profligate spending, as the Heritage Foundation documents. Consider the following Heritage findings:
• The federal government is spending $2.6 million to train Chinese prostitutes how to drink more responsibly on the job (no joke).
• A GAO audit revealed that nearly half of all purchases made on government credit cards are improper, fraudulent, or a form of embezzlement.
• The federal government is spending $200,000 for a tattoo removal program in Mission Hills, California; $190,00 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming; $75,000 for the Totally Teen Zone in Albany, Georgia; $500,000 for Alaska Airlines to paint a Chinook salmon on the side of a Boeing 737; and $2,000 per flight to subsidize flights between Washington, D.C. and Congressman Hal Rogers’ hometown in Wayne County, Kentucky on Monday mornings and Friday evenings when he, his staff, and lobbyists ordinarily fly (Rogers is on the Appropriations Committee which is in control of the Department of Transportation’s budget).
• The Federal Communications Commission paid $350,000 to sponsor NASCAR racer David Gillibrand.
• The Department of Defense wasted $100 million on unused refundable airline tickets by never bothering to ask for refunds.
Subscribe to the NewsWithViews Daily News Alerts!
In addition, the United States has classified $13 billion in Iraq aid as wasted or stolen, and another $7.8 billion in Iraq aid is classified as funds that cannot be accounted for. The list goes on and on, and what I specify here is but a small subset of the wasteful spending. Literally tens of billions of dollars every year are wasted by our bloated, unaccountable, and corrupt federal government.
On November 29, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thomas Cooper, an observation about the fledgling republic’s wasteful spending (the federal government spent $8.1 million in that year): “I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labour of the industrious.” Imagine what Jefferson’s sentiment would be today in the face of tens of billions being wasted every year by a federal government that spends over $6.4 trillion annually.
Click here to visit NewsWithViews.com home page.