We focus our anxiety on the mountainous Obama spending. But the culture of federal spending year after year for duplicative or worthless programs is equally troubling.
Take the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), run by the Justice Department, for example. Money budgeted for 2012 is a pittance. It doesn’t compare with the ObamaCare disaster or the $800 billion failed “stimulus,” or new expensive solar handouts.
The bitter taste is that any money at all should be snatched from our pockets for the National Drug Intelligence Center, even though it’s only down to $25 million now, after 18 years of profligacy amounting to hundreds of millions, along with a record of scandals. Why is it still operating at all? Ask Obama.
The history of the NDIC should turn our stomachs. What began as a center to consolidate drug intelligence soon became a prodigious monument to wasteful spending to patronize one powerful and unscrupulous member of Congress.
Funding has not been based on concern about the war on illegal drugs. Despite complaints from countless officials that its work duplicated other agencies, by this year, $630 million has been dumped into the agency. Some $44 million of it personally earmarked by Obama.
The agency also has been afflicted with scandal. Former Director Mike Horn was admonished for his “unprofessional conduct,” traveling across the globe on taxpayer money promoting software that had not yet been developed. Horn admitted agency reports were “poorly researched, and, in some cases, wrong.”
A report by the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) stated the agency simply duplicated the activities of the other existing drug intelligence centers.
Why the colossal waste on a worthless agency? The blame falls on the ill-tempered, greedy late John Murtha (D-PA). Murtha chaired the House Subcommittee for Defense. He protected the agency by tucking it into a Pentagon authorization bill, with the condition that it be headquartered in his Congressional District, Johnstown, PA.
The Center provided 400 jobs for Murtha constituents.
In 2005, then-President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget would have killed the agency. It proposed that NDIC’s budget be slashed to an amount needed to “facilitate the shutdown of the center…” By then, the NCDI had spent at least $350 million, according to U.S. News & World Report. Bush tried to kill the program the next two years without success.
Most states have agencies for health, education, welfare, employment, training, and other operations that are redundant to federal activities on which we spend billions of dollars.
The Defense Department has it’s own $53 billion health care system. It’s known as TRICARE. It provides health coverage for some 10 million active-duty personnel, retirees, reservists and their families. Few Americans would resent adequate health care for our military and their families. But it does largely duplicate ObamaCare.
TRICARE also is quite a bargain. Adm. Thad Allen, who recently retired as Coast Guard commandant, told a congressional committee May 3, 2010 that a month from retirement, he signed up for TRICARE Prime, the top level medical coverage, for himself and his wife and paid only $465. “Something needs to be done about that (low cost).” Fees have not been changed in more than a decade. Then there’s the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan for the more than 2 million people in the federal workforce.
Or take the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It has operated since 1970. In all those years, it has made only 951 inspections of businesses. The 2012 budget of $162 million includes $6 million to pay for 45 “whistleblowers” as staff members. Twenty-six states also have their own OSHA operations.
The cost of meeting OSHA workplace exposure standards can range from $3 million per life-year to $51 million per life-year depending on the exposure standards and chemicals used.
The Department of Energy could save $2.2 million with more efficient use of electricity in its own buildings, according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). A department spokesman said the department is in the process of installing 600 energy efficient (but dim) LED lights. Those are the expensive ones that federal law requires all Americans to use starting next year. The Energy Department, the great proponent of renewable energy sources, acknowledged that only 5 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources.
Of all the areas of federal duplication, environmental policy takes the cake. Environmental policy grew mainly out of the environmental movement in the 1960s and ‘70s. It led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
At the White House is the Council on Environmental Quality. Its focus is “to ensure that there is a strong science and policy basis for our environmental policy, to move the nation to greater reliance on clean energy and increase energy security, to combat global warming while growing the green economy, to protect public health and the environment, especially in vulnerable communities, and to protect and restore our great ecosystems.” Most citizens thought the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had this role.
It’s budgeted to spend $8,973,000 this year for the same mission.
Authority on environmental issues is highly fragmented. Virtually all executive branch departments have some area of environmental authority, leading to questionable efficacy of government environmental regulation. Fourteen federal agencies—from the Agriculture Department to the Department of Labor – have been given environmental responsibilities.
In the legislative branch, duplication also reigns. The EPA has its fingers in about two-thirds of the House’s standing committees and subcommittees, with a similar percentage in the Senate. This division of tasks means no one looks at the environmental problems as a whole. Environmental legislation goes back to the Refuse Act of 1899.
Underlying policy decisions is risk control. The science behind risk assessment varies in uncertainty and is usually affected by political controversy. Nuclear power and pesticide dangers are often overstated. The cost of environmental regulation in the U.S. has been estimated to be at least 2 percent of gross domestic product.
In Washington, only Obama speeches, however, win first prize for wasteful duplication.