Commentary

Reinventing Wastefulness

By Peter J. Ferrara
This article appeared in the Wahington Times.

Since 1993,Vice President Al Gore has been in charge of a project called the National Performance Review. Though that project, he is supposed to be “reinventing government” by developing reforms to improve government management, and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.

But a report last year from the Government Reform and Oversight Committee in the House shows that Mr. Gore’s project has been a complete failure.

First, Mr. Gore claims that the changes adopted through his review have saved the federal government $118 billion. But the committee’s report shows that actual savings have amounted to only $3 billion.

Moreover, the report shows this $3 billion is only the very tiny tip of the iceberg of government waste and mismanagement. The report reviews established findings from the General Accounting Office, inspector general reports, Office of Management and Budget, Congressional oversight committees, and studies by nongovernment organizations. From these sources, the report finds hundreds of billions of dollars of government mismanagement and waste continuing in the Clinton administration.

For example, the report found $125 billion in delinquent debts owed to the government that continue uncollected. This includes $6 billion owed by criminals in fines and restitution.

The report also estimates that $26 billion will be lost in the Medicare and Medicaid programs this year due to fraud and abuse. In addition, the government runs 163 federal job training programs costing $20 billion per year that compete against each other to serve the same populations and have overlapping administrative structures. Studies show these programs have very little effect in improving usable job skills.

Moreover, more than $12 million directed each year from the Social Security trust funds to pay for employees at the Social Security Administration to work full-time m union activities. One employee there is paid $81,000 per year but performs no work for the government. Overall, 1,800 federal employees at Social Security spend at least part of their workday working for the union rather than the government.

At the Commerce Department, 567 employees were found to be abusing government-issued credit cards. And somehow, hundreds of collect calls and calls to sex and party lines by federal prisoners have been billed to the Agriculture Department.

Each year, the food stamp program manages to waste $2 billion in overpayments that are never recovered. The Agriculture Department’s Consolidated Farm Service Agency has lost $6.3 billion on direct and guaranteed agricultural loans.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, a billion dollars has been spent on computers for the Office of Child Support Enforcement that cannot communicate with each other. These computers have failed to improve collection rates for delinquent child support. A total of $34 billion in such unpaid child support remains outstanding, but collections are made in only 1 out of every 19 cases.

Even the IRS is unable to produce reliable financial information on itself. It cannot verify the total tax revenues and tax refunds it has in hand. Moreover, it has spent $2.5 billion on computers so far, with little to show for it.

Overall, the report finds that the federal government is a maze of overlapping and duplicate programs. On average, five different agencies perform the same or related functions. For example, eight agencies perform factions related to natural resources and the environment.

Al Gore’s national performance review is itself just another example of ineffective government waste. If the public wants to clamp down on government mismanagement and waste, it is going to have to hire someone other than the Clinton administration to do it.

Peter Ferrara is an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute and chief economist at Americans for Tax Reform.