The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Back in Black

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Senator Coburn (R-OK) and his staff have been leaders in fighting a bloated federal government, rife with waste, fraud, and abuse.  His office has produced several reports on where spending could be cut in the federal government and would certainly help return its role back to what it was envisioned to be – small with limited powers.  Our Founding Fathers’ vision is ably described by Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address when he called for, “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government; and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

Coburn’s investigative report, Back in Black provides a plan to put the “U.S. back in black by identifying $9 trillion in very specific savings that can be achieved over the next decade. These savings are derived from consolidating duplication, weeding out waste, eliminating special interest subsidies, reducing overhead costs, demanding results, and setting priorities.”

Senator Coburn and his staff reviewed every agency and practically every government program. They relied on information from the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Congressional Research Service for discretionary savings and cost estimates.

They also broke down the programs they reviewed into several categories, which are:

•Not Needed — Serves no vital or essential federal role or has outlived its intended purpose.

•Does Not Meet Any Need — Little or no evidence to demonstrate results or effectiveness achieving stated goals.

•Wasteful — Significant amounts of silly or unjustifiable expenditures.

•Duplicative — Duplicates or overlaps existing government agencies or initiatives.

•Not a Priority at this Time — Mission cannot be justified within today‘s budgetary constraints.

•Not Cost Efficient — Benefits do not exceed the costs.

•Parochial — Serves a local or special interest with no overriding federal role and exceeds the limited powers granted to Congress enumerated in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

•Mismanaged — Significant amounts of erroneous, fraudulent and improper expenditures, excessive overhead and administrative costs, or otherwise poorly administered or implemented.

I pulled out a few examples from “Back in Black” for your review.  Keep them in mind as we approach the silly season in Washington – passing the spending bills and raising the debt ceiling, which will invite a lot of hot rhetoric, wringing of hands, and threats of shutting the government down.

 

Page 10: Eliminate Reemployed Annuitant Double Dip

Savings: At least $611 million over ten years.

When federal employees retire, they receive an annuity.  However, federal employees are often rehired by the government.  The agency doing the rehiring must receive a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management to do so.  Most of the time, the rehired employee will still receive their full annuity but their salary will be reduced by the amount of the annuity they receive.  But sometimes there is an “urgent need” for an agency to rehire a retired employee and if they do, the federal employee can receive their full salary AND their full pension.  They are known as double-dippers and cost taxpayers $55 million a year.

Based on the most recent numbers available, the number of double dippers has increased greatly, from over 650 federal employees in 2000 to over 3,000 in 2007.  It is assumed the number has grown even larger since then.

Coburn calls for the elimination of rehired employees from receiving their full salary and full annuity that would save taxpayers at least $611 million over ten years.

 

Page 429 - End Federal Funding for Beach Replenishment Projects

Savings: $702 million over ten years

Coburn believes that Congress has wasted more than $3 billion on temporary, local projects that dump sand onto beaches to protect beach properties.  Unfortunately, by doing so, the projects encourage even more construction in areas that have a high risk to constant flooding and beach erosion, which also drives up the cost of the National Flood Insurance Program and flood disaster assistance costs.

Beach replenishment activities are only temporary solutions.  They do not stop beach erosion and cost on average $100 million every year since 1997.

Beaches have eroded and changed their shape for centuries and will continue to do so.  Pouring millions of dollars into replenishing beaches mainly helps wealthy individuals who are primarily the ones that can construct homes on beach front property.  It is time to allow nature to take its course and for developers and home owners to pay the full freight, including flood insurance, for what it costs to construct buildings close to our nation’s beaches and to no longer be subsidized by taxpayers.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates eliminating federal funding for these projects would reduce federal spending by $702 million over a ten year period.

 

Page 498 – End Federal Funding for the “Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB),” “National Public Radio (NPR),” and the “Public Broadcasting Network (PBN)”

Savings - $5.6 billion over ten years

Senator Coburn’s report gives a brief history of CPB in his report.  The network was created by Congress in 1967 as a private nonprofit corporation through the Public Broadcasting Act and it is entirely funded through the federal appropriations process.  Currently, CPB is the largest single source of funding for public media.  For fiscal year 2013, CPB will receive $445 million in federal funding.

We took a look at their 990, the most recent one available on Guidestar, and found that taxpayers provided 98.8 percent of their funding in 2010.  Their CEO received a salary of approximately $283,000.

Coburn also points out that while National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Network declare they receive most of their funding from private sources and little direct funding from the federal government, the claim is misleading.  They also receive a lot of money in grants from CPB, local member stations, and other government agencies, which is indirect federal funding.  Coburn has calculated that in total, approximately 15 percent of all public media funding comes from CPB appropriations and that over the last ten years, more than $4 billion in federal funds have been appropriated on public radio and television.

The report correctly points out that since the creation of CPB and the corresponding off-shoots, the media market has changed dramatically.  There is a huge breadth of outlets to find news, political commentary, drama productions, music, movies, entertainment, and so forth.  There is no need for the taxpayers to continue to fund CPB, NPR, and PBS.  Supporters of current publically funded programming can choose to support it with their private dollars.

Senator Coburn reminds us of how we got to a $16.8 trillion debt.  The report states, “Most of our excesses are the result of decades of Congress overstepping the limited powers granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.   Government is so vast, complicated, and protected by special interests, it has become nearly impossible for even most lawmakers to navigate. As a result, overly simplistic solutions that will not solve the problem are being proposed, such as – capping spending at unsustainable levels, reforms to the budget process that cannot guarantee spending reductions, raising taxes on millionaires, or increasing the government‘s borrowing  authority.”

He is correct.  Our government has become unsustainable.  We must begin to shrink it and Senator Coburn has a lot of ideas that need to be considered and implemented.

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