The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

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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.


Congressman Kanjorski (D-Pa.) joins a mushrooming list of members of Congress whose earmarking habits are getting a lot of media attention.  Over an eight-year period, Rep. Kanjorski steered $10 million in earmarked federal funding (from the Energy and Defense Departments, as well as the Economic Development Administration) to Cornerstone Technologies, LLC, which employed his four nephews and his daughter as either owners or board members.  The ostensible purpose of the grants was to do research on using high-pressure jets of water to pulverize anthracite into microscopic particles for subsequent use in vehicle parts.  Cornerstone has now declared bankruptcy, but while contracts were flowing, the company was paying hefty salaries to at least two of Kanjorski’s nephews.  Not only was Cornerstone funded with federal contracts, one of its affiliates, Pennsylvania Micronics, run by other Kanjorski relatives, also benefited from subcontracts.  A former head of Penn State’s Energy Institute is quoted in a June 3, 2007 Scranton Times-Tribune as saying “it was like the four stooges meet anthracite.”  Which reminded us of that famous Stooges exchange between Curly and Moe in the classic film “Dizzy Pilots:”  “Vice? I have no vice. I’m pure as the driven snow,” says Curly. “Yeah, but ya drifted!” says Moe...slap! 

    • The Washington Post reports that the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, the General Services Administration, and contractors tasked with buying floating barriers to protect the nation’s naval vessels from attack back in 2001, shimmied right past certain cost-saving rules when administering the project.  Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said during a hearing on the alleged fraud, “The taxpayers are out a heck of a lot of money…I have reason to believe we have been defrauded, and it looks like an inside job.”  Apparently, little work was done on the project and the companies involved floated off with more than $4 million in excessive fees.  Hey, don’t worry about it, it’s not like we’re at war or….never mind.

    • USA Today reports that FEMA overpaid victims of 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita by $485 million.  The federal government appropriated $7 billion in aid in the aftermath of those storms.  The agency is now in the process of trying to recover the money from recipients.  So far, they have only managed to recapture about $15 million.  A FEMA spokesperson was quoted as saying it was “a no-brainer” to shovel hundreds of millions in overpayments out the door without prior review, rather than make recipients go through a cumbersome process.  The GAO’s audits suggest that FEMA’s overpayments are closer to $1 billion. 

    • Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and his staff have turned their oversight microscopes on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and what they found is enough to make taxpayers nauseous.  The CDC’s annual budget has climbed 350 percent between 1995 and 2007, to $10 million.  The agency is tasked with disease prevention and addressing public health concerns, but Coburn’s staff documented hundreds of millions in wasteful spending, including $106 million for a state-of-the-art communications and visitors center, complete with a $5 million wall of plasma televisions and a statue of a woman made out of vegetables to encourage healthy nutrition.  CDC staff also spent $1.7 million (including funds from a terrorism account) on get-togethers with Hollywood executives in order to provide “public health experts as a resource to entertainment industry writers,” and “accurate depictions of healthy living at all stages of life.”  Washington appropriators, who are typically plagued with low-grade Beltway Fever, apparently have allowed the condition to develop into full-blown Chronic Wasting Disease.

    • Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) is full of surprises…and chutzpah.  In an effort to maintain funding for one of his congressionally-earmarked projects, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), Murtha wrote a letter last month to the appropriations committee claiming that the Center, located in his hometown of Johnstown, was going to miraculously acquire a new rationale for its existence: tracking the nation’s “no-fly” list.  This announcement was a revelation to the Director of National Intelligence, who had recommended that the NDIC be closed for “poor performance.”  Murtha managed to obtain the $23 million earmark anyway.  Perhaps there should be a “no-fly” list for egregious congressional earmarks. 

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