Tags: Government Waste

Here’s What Your Postage Fees Are Buying in Chicago . . .


I know this will shock you, but an inspector general’s report out today finds that the U.S. Postal Service’s Chicago Network Distribution Center is wasting a lot of man-hours:

[The Inspector General] found the Chicago NDC’s parcel sorter machines and sack sorter operations were inefficient and determined the facility used more workhours in mailhandler operations than necessary. As a result, the Chicago NDC could eliminate 119,572 workhours from its mail processing operations.

We also found some mail transport equipment with unused space, equipment not properly restrained for transport, and some trailers from the Chicago NDC headed to Pittsburgh and Des Moines NDCs were not filled to capacity. These conditions occurred because officials did not properly staff operations based on mail volume and did not have the latest technology installed on parcel sorter machines to automate parcel distribution.

In addition, the Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System used for tracking motorized equipment was not working; and employees did not fully use the Yard Management System to ensure efficient trailer yard moves or follow NDC guidelines for properly sorting, labeling, and consolidating mail. Further, management did not review its highway contract route transportation requirements. The Postal Service could save about $5.6 million annually by eliminating unnecessary work hours, ensuring compliance with NDC guidelines, and eliminating three underutilized transportation round trips.

Is there such a thing as “peak inefficiency”?

Tags: Government Waste , Chicago

University Presidents Paid More than POTUS


A great number of Americans have not felt the benefits of the economic recovery, but in 2012, the number of private university presidents receiving over $1 million in compensation increased by one, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

For context, the President of the United States makes less than half that—$400,000.

Why should the CEO of a small institution receive a base salary greater than that of the President of the United States? This is an affront over which American taxpayers should be thoroughly riled. Though the report considered only private colleges—making it tempting to brush off their spendthrift ways as institutional, rather than public, problems—all of these schools are accredited and so receive taxpayer money in the form of federal student loans. Some receive so much that it would be reasonable to question their status as “private” entities. How do colleges and universities defend this spending?

The argument for so highly compensating college presidents (and other administrators) boils down to a concern about prestige. ACTA’s report Education or Reputation? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges outlines the ways in which private liberal arts colleges chase reputation at the expense of student success. Wrapped up in this concern for name and notoriety is a desire to attract “big names” to executive positions with huge salaries.

But consider the example of Mitch Daniels at Purdue. Despite asking for less compensation than he was offered, he’s far from a no-name presidential pick and has already proven his worth time and again. Raymond Burse at Kentucky State University asked for a similar cut. Both prove that talented administrators don’t take their jobs based on compensation alone.

On a deeper level, however, these salaries undermine morale on campus. The message sent by administrative compensation at eight or ten times that received by faculty is a clear one: instruction doesn’t matter and neither do instructors. Rather, such salaries proclaim, what matters is institutional prestige, the name and fame of the president and the school, and reputation-building investments that provide little for students. If you wonder what deteriorating campus morale might look like, check out the student protests currently plaguing the University of California system as it raises tuition in the midst of administrative salary hikes.

Some colleges, thankfully, are catching on. ACTA covered a plan for a presidential pay cap at St. Mary’s College earlier this year. We thought St. Mary’s professor Sandy Ganzell hit the nail on the head with regard to this issue. She said they wanted a president who: “would be attracted because of the pay plan, which is rooted in the notion of an academic community and in a belief that higher education represents a call to service, not the pursuit of top salary and privileges.”

University leaders must realize that they have the power to rein in presidential pay, through pay-caps and hiring decisions, and make the tough decisions that—despite varying from the norm—will help maintain a sense that a campus is a community of learning rather than the presidential palace.   

Tags: Higher Education , Government Waste , Tuition

$34 Million USDA Program to Grow Soybeans in Afghanistan ‘May Not Be Viable’


All of what you are about to read is true; this is not a giant promotional scheme for the book.

The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction published a review of its inquiry into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $34.4 million soybean program in Afghanistan. The American Soybean Association submitted the program proposal and a funding request to USDA. The inspector general’s office report expressed “concerns about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation.”

The report found:

* Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented by ASA.

* The ASA did not conduct feasibility studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

* USDA provided $34.4 million to ASA despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt.

* The sustainability of the soybean-processing facility is in serious doubt because Afghan farmers are not cultivating soybeans in sufficient quantity to make it economically viable, nor is there any significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan.

* The significant problems creating a market for soybean products in Afghanistan should have been expected, since Afghans apparently have never grown or eaten soybeans before.

Inspector General John Sopko wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

I understand that Afghanistan’s operating environment poses daunting challenges for reconstruction and development programs, and that any project in the country is bound to meet its fair share of difficulties. However, what is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.

He recommended “that USDA thoroughly review the process by which the Food for Progress program evaluates project proposals and makes its final selections.”

Above: Part of your $34 million in tax dollars at work in Afghanistan.

Had I written about this in the book, everyone would have said the novel jumped the shark and became implausible.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste

Administrator for HUD Grant Program Traded Apartment for Sex


Your tax dollars at work: The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides grants to programs like Project Reconnect “to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released.” At least, that’s the way it’s designed.

And then sometimes the money gets used like this:

From 2012 until last year, Hart worked for the city’s Housing Department as a caseworker for Project Reconnect, which uses federal dollars to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released. Problem was, Lawrence Hart helped someone who wasn’t even remotely qualified for the program get a Carrollton apartment at a deep discount using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars: Lawrence Hart. He got the place by using someone else’s name on the application; court docs refer only to a “Person A.”

That was bad enough. But Hart also admitted to federal prosecutors earlier this year that he helped a woman, known only as Person B, get an apartment through Project Reconnect. Here’s how he did it, according to court records: “Hart propositioned her for sex and expedited Person B being placed in an apartment because she agreed to have sex with Hart.” He kicked her out in January 2013, only after the woman broke up with him.

The good news that former caseworker will spend 15 months behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and has also been ordered to pay back $8,619.

Tags: HUD , Fraud , Government Waste

IG: Afghans Aren’t Using U.S.-Provided Transport Planes, Don’t Need Another


The independent special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction is warning Pentagon leadership that the Afghan air force doesn’t need all the C-130 transport planes provided by the U.S. in $100 million–plus deal, and is urging the Pentagon to halt the delivery of another one without a detailed review of the policy.

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko writes:

We analyzed flight data for the two AAF C-130s currently in Afghanistan and found that they are being underutilized, which raises questions about whether additional aircraft are truly needed. Lastly, during my visit last month, I was informed about support problems associated with training, spare parts, and maintenance for the two C-130s currently in the inventory.

Sopko’s report states that not delivering a single C-130 could save the U.S. taxpayer up to $40.5 million. The third C-130 is scheduled to be delivered next month.

Are the Afghans really using this plane? If not, do they need another?

The inspector general’s report also states that the Department of Defense has been unable to provide documentation to support its decision to purchase the C-130s, detailing that:

a U.S. Air Force team raised concerns that the C-130 would be too complex and costly for the AAF. Notwithstanding those concerns,on January 4, 2013 the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Secretary of the Air Force to provide four C-130s to the AAF — two in 2013 and two by the end of 2014.


The Deputy Secretary of Defense in January 2013 was Ashton Carter. In December of that year, he was replaced by Christine Fox as the acting deputy defense secretary. Previously, she had the director of cost assessment and program evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — one of the most senior civilian positions at the Pentagon. She’s also known for inspiring Kelly McGillis’s character in Top Gun.

When Fox retired in May, President Obama said:

Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time. She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.

NOTE: This report initially referred to the IG as part of the Pentagon, but it is an independent agency with jurisdiction over any agency doing reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste , President Obama

Spared by the Sequester: Catfish Inspections, $500K Hotel Stays, New U.S. Drone Complexes


Jazz Shaw notices more spending “Spared by the Sequester”: $14 million per year for catfish inspections.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spent $500,000 on lodging, hotel conference rooms. and other services in San Jose, Costa Rica; the cost is associated with President Obama’s May 3 visit.

Oh, and there’s a new $16.3 million “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Complex” to be built at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Despite the dire warnings, the Sequester has not yet required President Obama to look for loose change that fell behind the Oval Office couch cushions.

Tags: Drones , Sequester , Government Waste , President Obama

Obama’s Presidency Isn’t Really Focused on Governing


From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Ultimately, the Obama Presidency Isn’t Really About Governing.

Obamacare’s implementation is a “train wreck,” in the words of retiring Montana Democratic senator Max Baucus.

The president’s gun-control proposals are rejected, because he can’t persuade red-state senators in either party that they would really be of any use in preventing gun violence.

The great news is that the Boston bombers were killed and apprehended quickly, but Boston’s ordeal left serious questions about the government’s ability to keep an eye on those deemed dangerous, and how carefully it scrutinizes those who seek to become American citizens.

Time magazine’s Joe Klein gave conservatives an “Alleluia” moment a few weeks ago. The Obama administration announced that the “exchanges” designed to help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees won’t be ready by the promised deadline. Instead of having multiple health-insurance plans, with differing prices, to offer to their employees, small businesses will be able to pick . . . one plan. Pointing to this and the inability the of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to come up with a unified electronic health-care-records system, Klein lamented, “we are now seeing weekly examples of this administration’s inability to govern.”

Klein’s dark assessment is probably driven by all of the other promises about Obamacare that have been left in the dust.

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” . . . except for the 7 million people who will lose their coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Your premiums will go down . . .” except that premiums have gone up in the past years, with more hikes projected.

And let’s not forget one of then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promises, that Obamacare would “create 400,000 jobs almost immediately” and eventually 4 million jobs.

Klein writes, “as a Democrat — as someone who believes in activist government — [Obama] has a vested interest in seeing that federal programs actually work efficiently. I don’t see much evidence that this is anywhere near the top of his priorities.”

At moments like this, conservatives feel an enormous temptation to snicker, “Welcome to the party, pal!” But brutally honest assessments like this one from Klein ought to be applauded on the right. One of the reasons the era of Big Government never really ended is because many of its usual fans on the left avert their eyes when it fails so badly. You can’t address a problem if you refuse to see a problem.

Unfortunately, there’s not much indication that Obama sees the problems and even less indication he wants to see them. The bold promise and the awful delivery have become the signature of this administration, extending well beyond the implementation of health care.

Elsewhere in his column, Klein writes, “faced a terrible economic crisis — and he has done well to limit the damage.”

The damage is limited . . . except for the fact that more Americans are living in poverty than when Obama took office. And our workforce participation rate is now the lowest since 1979. And the number of Americans on food stamps is at an all-time high. And the nearly 5 million long-term unemployed have defined life since autumn 2008 as an era of barely scraping by, month after month, year after year..

Of course, the “shovel-ready jobs” of the stimulus didn’t really live up to the promises, as Obama himself admitted.

And the web site meant to detail how every dime of stimulus spending ended up full of bad data and nonexistent congressional districts.

And as of June 2012, three and a half years after the stimulus passed, nearly $8 billion was still waiting to be awarded or sitting in agency accounts.

And the entire green-jobs initiative clearly hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, including the president’s infamous pledge that “companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” Now another one of the administration’s high-profile loan recipients, Fisker Automotive, is contemplating bankruptcy; the company hasn’t built a car since July.

Tuesday we learned, “Taxpayer-backed funds kept flowing to electric carmaker Fisker Automotive months after the company failed to meet key production benchmarks, lawmakers said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.”

All of these problems in the stimulus and the administration’s overall economic policies fit in a pattern, don’t they? Klein’s creeping sense that making sure “federal programs actually work efficiently” isn’t really an administration priority?

Time and again, we hear anecdotes of the president angered, befuddled, and frustrated that the policies implemented in the beginning of his presidency, with a compliant Congress, haven’t generated the results he promised. But very little seems to change, other than a bit of fuming at aides behind closed doors.

President Obama was surprised to learn, in discussions with economic adviser Christina Romer, that large-scale investment in infrastructure and clean-energy projects wouldn’t create enormous numbers of new jobs.

In a December 2010 meeting with economic advisers, he “boiled over” with frustration that his housing policies hadn’t helped struggling homeowners like he promised.

When federal program after federal program fails to generate the desired result, it’s not crazy talk to become at least a little skeptical of the latest pledges and promises and idealistic visions.

But Democrats often speak as if the Right’s skepticism of the government’s problem-solving ability is driven by some sort of abstract ideological theory. It’s not. It’s usually built upon hard experiences. Human behavior isn’t predictable, particularly their interactions with the government. Unintended consequences pile up like a car crash. The pattern is depressingly predictable: Someone in government comes up with some laudable goal, and announces some new program. After the press conference, when the cameras and microphones are away, implementing the idea proves more complicated than the press-conference announcement made it seem. Deadlines get missed. Costs turn out much higher than expected. Bureaucratic inertia begins to exert the gravitational pull of a black hole.

Perhaps it is the nature of the modern presidency for the occupant of the Oval Office to glide from photo-op to photo-op, and never spend too much time getting entangled in the messy work of actually making his policies live up to his promises. Certainly that’s the pattern for this president; even in this non-campaign year, the schedule is heavy with a campaign-style rally on gun-control initiatives here, a DCCC fundraiser there, then off to a tour of a national laboratory. He flits from issue to issue; to judge from his remarks and his schedule, the health-care issue is resolved and our health-care system’s problems are fixed. Maybe White House press secretary Jay Carney will get a question about the health-care exchanges or electronic health-care-records system, which he’ll defuse with another defensive, meandering word salad.

Implementing Obamacare? Hey, that’s for somebody else to worry about.

In over his head?

Tags: Barack Obama , Obamacare , Government Waste

Cut the Lego Purchases First, Mr. President.


Here, let me help you with the sequestration, Mr. President.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is lamenting that his department will need to make drastic cuts that will immediately impact air traffic controllers and airport security lines. A quick perusal of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s last annual Waste Report showcases a bunch of grant programs that could be cut or eliminated immediately to generate significant savings.

Let’s start at the Federal Highway Administration, and eliminate the National Scenic Byways Program entirely. Forever.

You’re asking, “the what?”

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is authorized by 23 U.S.C. § 162, and has been reauthorized and continued through March 31, 2012. The NSBP recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities. NSBP funding supports projects that manage and protect these intrinsic qualities, interpret these qualities for visitors, and improve visitor facilities along byways.

In fiscal 2012, roughly $20,600,000 were available for grants.

How does that money get spent?

Thirty-thousand Lego pieces, paid for with a $3,700 National Scenic Byways grant, are being assembled to build a miniature replica of a historic downtown street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.The 18-footlong display will depict Queen Street as it likely appeared in the 1920s and ‘30s.1020 It is expected to be a permanent exhibit at the “for the kids, by George” Children’s Museum, which will showcase George Washington’s “adventures in the Eastern Panhandle” of West Virginia. The museum is primarily funded with a $290,000 National Scenic Byways grant awarded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Buy your own damn Legos.

Then there’s the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation program, which spent $9,762,116 in fiscal 2012. Of that amount, $650,000 was used to repair the Stevenson Road Covered Bridge in Greene County, Ohio, a bridge that is not actually connected to any roads or train tracks.

It’s time to stop providing federal grants for non-essential projects:

St. Louis is receiving more than $35 million in federal funds for “an old-fashioned style trolley system” that will run on a 2.2-mile line from the Missouri History Museum to the University City Library. The federal funds for the project include a $25 million Federal Transit Administration Urban Circulator grant, a $3.5 million New Markets Tax Credit, and $7.1 million in other federal transportation grants.

States and localities can’t come to Washington with the endless “crumbling roads and bridges” cry and then turn around and spend money on cute old-fashioned trolley systems.

Somehow $145,000 in U.S. Department of Transportation funds are being used for a sculpture garden in the town of Waterloo, Iowa, dedicated to former resident Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of 31st U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

Sculptures aren’t transportation. They don’t move.

It’s ridiculous for LaHood to complain about being asked to cut roughly 1.3 percent of his budget ($1 billion; the Obama administration requested $74 billion in its last budget request) when his department is funding nonsense like this.

Oh, and does the U.S. Department of Transportation really need a separate Undersecretary for Policy and an Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy?

Or did they really need to spend $2,810,246 sponsoring conferences last year?

Tags: Government Waste , Legos , Ray LaHood , Sequestration

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