Do you think that the U.S. government wastes too much taxpayer money? If so, you are not alone. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans view all levels of government as wasteful, but feel that the federal government is worst of all, squandering more than 50% of the money it collects in taxes.
Even some politicians agree government waste is rampant – namely Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, whose office has compiled a yearly report on that very subject for the past five years. The latest edition, the 2014 Wastebook has arrived, documenting $25 billion worth of government excess.
Below are just a few of some of the more ludicrous examples of wastefulness, which could often be avoided with better oversight – making those misused tax dollars available for other, more beneficial purposes.
Forcing soybean farming on Afghanistan: $34 million
For five long years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture threw millions of dollars at a project designed to foster soybean farming in Afghanistan. Despite multiple roadblocks – a British study, for example, found that soybeans wouldn't thrive in that part of the world – the USDA persisted, wasting a whopping $34 million.
Designed to help bulk up the protein level in the average Afghan diet, the effort was administered by a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called " Food for Progress" – which has itself been criticized for being inept.
Vehicle hoarding by Homeland Security: $35 million
The Department of Homeland Security loves to acquire motor vehicles – even though they seldom use most of them. Despite such light use, maintenance is costly: $485 million yearly. Two-thirds of the 56,000 vehicles in DHS' possession are underused, according to a government audit, costing taxpayers between $35.3 million and $48.6 million per year.
Even the DHS' Office of Inspector General agrees that the agency has no "centralized fleet management system" in a report released this past August, noting the yearly costs cited by Senator Coburn.
Free shipping for Alaskans, courtesy of the USPS: $77 million
Created in 1972 as a bid to improve service to remote areas, the Alaska Bypass program has become a monster, gobbling up $77 million in public money each year.
Though assuring that all U.S. residents receive their mail is required of the Postal Service, shipping huge pallets full of consumer goods, at enormous cost, certainly is not. What's more, the cost of these shipments full of name-brand soda, cleaning supplies, and other consumables are tallied using regular postal rates.
In fact, Senator Coburn questions the utility of this program, even for Alaskan residents – though he notes that the airlines involved in delivering the goods make a tidy profit.
Despite efforts to curtail this program, no headway has been made. In a hearing earlier this year, the federal Oversight and Government Reform Committee argued in favor of cutbacks, but met with resistance from Alaskan delegates.
IRS tax fraud: $4.2 billion
Fraudulent tax returns often go unnoticed by the Internal Revenue Service, resulting in billions in tax dollars being paid out to scammers filing these returns. For 2013 alone, the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed that the IRS itself estimated that loss to be higher -- $5.2 billion.
One reason the IRS is so vulnerable to fraud is its federal mandate to administer refunds as quickly as possible. On the bright side, the IRS claims to have prevented more than $24 billion in fraud last year, and is working to tighten its controls further.
Random assignments for Medicare Part D Plans: $5 billion
Instead of using statistical information to create a better fit between low-income Medicare beneficiaries and Medicare's Part D prescription plan, a random assignment program is used, wasting billions each year.
A recent study by the University of Pittsburg Graduate School of Public Health noted that $5 billion annually could be saved if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were to assign low-income beneficiaries to the lowest-cost regional plan, instead of doing so randomly.
This isn't the first time that this issue has come under fire. As the above study notes, this has been the method of assignment since 2006; Consumers' Union spoke out against the system back in 2007, saying that random assignments were "wasting millions in taxpayer dollars."
But wait, there's more
Senator Coburn is retiring at the end of this year due to health issues, which probably means that the 2014 edition of the Wastebook will be the last. Compared to reports from the federal government's own watchdog, the GAO, however, Senator Coburn's document seems to barely scratch the surface.
Consider, for instance, the GAO's latest Improper Payments testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Operations this past summer. For fiscal year 2013 alone, 84 different federal programs across 18 agencies reported nearly $106 billion in improper payments, only slightly less than the previous year's $107.1 billion.
Additionally, the GAO notes that its report is likely an incomplete list of such payments, and remarks upon a lack of government controls that could reverse this trend. Sadly, it seems Americans' opinion of government waste might be right on the money.