Politics & Policy

The Hunt for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Should Start in the Executive Branch

(Dreamstime image: Larryhw)
If Trump is serious about fiscal responsibility, he will find plenty of unnecessary spending to cut in the cabinet.

It may not be easy for President-elect Donald Trump to cut egregious spending across the entire federal government, but he can certainly target the executive branch, which has been wasting billions of dollars under President Obama.

Last month, Washington Post reporters obtained confidential memos from the Department of Defense detailing an internal study from January 2015, which found $125 billion in administrative waste. (Senator Jeff Flake’s Wastebook, an annual catalogue of absurd federal spending, recently revealed one particularly egregious example: The DOD spent $2 million to teach robots how to play jazz.) And yet officials chose to bury the study and ignore its recommendations, said the Post, “amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget.” Trump would be wise to revisit the report’s findings and implement the reforms it suggested, which are designed to reallocate funding to troops and weapons.

Wasteful spending is rampant in other cabinet agencies as well, of course. In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services spent nearly $950 billion; its inspector general classified $21 billion of that total as waste. “Waste and fraud at HHS was more than 2.5 times greater than the entire budget for the Commerce Department,” the Washington Examiner noted. HHS’s mismanagement of Medicare and Medicaid funds would be an easy target for reform under Trump.

In September 2016, the inspector general at the Department of Justice released an audit of the Drug Enforcement Agency. The audit found wasteful spending in the Confidential Source Program, which paid 9,000 informants a total of $237 million between 2010 and 2015. The inspector general described numerous instances of wasteful spending in the program, but two cases stand out. In one, “the DEA paid two Amtrak employees more than $860,000 for information that was available at no cost to the government,” and in the other, the agency reactivated sources after they had provided false testimony at trial.

In June 2016, the Department of Interior’s inspector general discovered that the department had 1,500 unused cell phones, all of which remained active on the government’s phone plan. “Assuming the bureaus continue with the current cellular plans for the next three years, spending on unused mobile devices would exceed $1.7 million,” the report stated.

Watchdog groups such as Open the Books have also uncovered waste. For example, Open the Books found that the Environmental Protection Agency under both President George W. Bush and President Obama (the study covered the years 2000 to 2014) spent over $15.1 million on outside public-relations consultants, despite having nearly 200 public-affairs employees in-house. Between 2007 and 2014, the EPA spent $141.496 million on salaries for its dedicated public-affairs officers. It surely didn’t need to spend millions more on hired guns to do the same job.

Like virtually every candidate since the beginning of time, Trump promised to tackle “waste, fraud, and abuse,” if elected. He promised to “cut so much, your head will spin,” in fact. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.