My Turn: Americans deserve a better return on investment

For the Monitor
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Death and taxes are said to be inevitable, but taxes need not be the bitter pill they are today. Efforts by Republicans are noble but do not go far enough. Americans deserve more robust tax cuts.

The federal government spends more than $4 trillion per year on hundreds of agencies and more than 2,300 subsidy programs that are poorly managed, influenced by politics and leveraged by lobbyists. Because government is not a business, it is difficult to measure results and return on investment.

Members of Congress dream up programs, with good intent, but fail time and again to focus on the management and results of those programs. Without competition, accountability for losses, monitoring and transparency, federal programs are established and are never-ending, perpetual revenue drains.

The VA is the most glaring example of government inefficiency, but job training programs are another example of good intentions failing miserably. In 2014 the WIA (Work Investment Act established in 1998) Gold Standard evaluation revealed that jobs programs were essentially “ineffective” and did little to offer those in the program real job training. Congress met this report with a fix creating the WOIA (Work Opportunity Investment Act), which did nothing to improve results. We are now into the 19th year of a program that has done nothing but cost billions of dollars with little or no result. It may give comfort to naïve partisans that something is being done but blind reliance on a “program” without measuring the return on that investment is obscene.

As taxpayers we should all demand a full, detailed accounting from each and every government agency. We should know how every dollar is spent. Are government bureaucrats spending our tax dollars on lavish meetings, first-class flights, expensive meals? How many dollars make it to those in need, and what is the impact? We should not forget that during the Obama years we witnessed this first-hand with the IRS spending $4.1 million on a single conference, GSA spending $885,000 on a conference in Las Vegas and so on. Another example is the Pentagon wasting $100 million on unused airline tickets over six years and 68,000 first-class tickets where coach would have sufficed.

When Republicans talk about spending cuts or smaller government, it is met with calls from the left that we “can’t do that.” Moreover, “cuts” to programs suggest that programs are being downsized, but “cuts” refers to reducing the annual increased spending on programs. The average American’s wages are flat yet politicians push to increase funding of programs year after year without a full accounting of results.

No one is talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare or other programs that are a promise to millions of Americans. We are talking about Medicare fraud estimated at $40 billion and Medicaid fraud estimated at $140 billion, $125 billion in Pentagon waste, National Science Foundation waste, fraud and duplication of $1.2 billion in 2011. The GAO annual report on waste and duplication, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Congressional Budget Office, PIG Book, Federal Fumbles report and dozens of members of Congress reveal waste, and year after year, nothing gets done to address these issues, and progressives insist that programs can’t be cut.

The press seldom if ever report the most ridiculous budgetary waste. Sen. John McCain in 2016 provided a list of 51 ways that federal agencies waste money, including $872,164 to study how children cross the street, $600,000 to fund a movie about Mickey Mouse, $125,000 to study the word “good” and other adjectives, $1.1 million for a gardening video game, $6.34 million for artwork at a California Veterans Affairs facility, and it goes on.

The U.S. Department of Education administers more than 280 programs, and it does so inefficiently and without analysis and measurement of results by an independent source; “administration” and “management” are two very different things. Failure to measure return on investment and allowing fraud, duplication and waste in the federal government should trump efforts by any politician on any side of the tax cut debate to block minimal tax relief for the American people.

We hear the hyper-partisan propaganda about “tax cuts for the rich” as the constant drumbeat from the left, yet we hear nothing about fiscal responsibility, government waste and duplication, program abuse or accountability. We hear nothing about efficiency and return on the investment that all Americans deserve from government and every government program.

It is time that we focus on what is important, which is responsible management of the hard-earned money that working Americans pay in taxes.

(Bill Bunker lives in Barnstead.)