Really? Free Market Central spoke to Adam Andrzejewski, Founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, the non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission for the last six years has been to document government spending—all of it. Andrzejewski’s team has successfully collected data for $80 of every $100 taxed and spent across America. Open The Books’ massive database encompasses the federal checkbook since 2001; 47 of 50 state checkbooks; and 15 million public employee salary and pension records. All this data can be accessed by anyone at openthebooks.com or via the openthebooks mobile app. The spending abuses unearthed by Andrzejewski’s organization suggest that, contrary to the Washington narrative, there are plenty of opportunities to cut government, to put it mildly.
Tell us a little about Open The Books. What is the organization’s mission?
Thanks for your interest in our work. Our mission is succinctly summarized in our slogan, "Every Dime. Online. In Real Time." The first step toward cutting wasteful government spending is simply seeing the spending. Our goal is to capture every dime taxed and spent at every level of government: Federal, State and Local. If you can see the spending, then we can squeeze-out waste, fraud, corruption and taxpayer abuse.
That’s a remarkable achievement. How long did it take you to collect records for $80 of every $100 taxed and spent — and how do you do it?
In 2011, we started where we live, in Illinois, posting the pay and pensions of every public employee at every level of Illinois government. Then, we realized we could do the entire country.
Our process is very manual - filing tens of thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests. The data are then mapped and loaded on to OpenTheBooks.com and our Open The Books mobile app. Our database is today comprised of 4 billion individual government expenditures. We are the world's largest database of government expenditures that's publically accessible.
You’ve uncovered many outrageous spending abuses. Which one has sparked the most public indignation?
Our oversight audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs checkbook uncovered $20 million spent on high-end, luxury artwork coded as 'furniture.' We found 27-foot Christmas trees costing $21,000 and sculptures priced like five-bedroom homes.
In one California VA medical facility that serves blind veterans, two sculptures cost $700,000. Blind veterans can't see a fancy sculpture. This wasteful spending took place during a period when up to 1,000 sick veterans died while waiting to see a doctor. After our story broke on Good Morning America, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley used our findings in an oversight letter to then-VA Secretary Robert McDonald. Within 34 days, McDonald apologized for the fancy art and instituted new rules to stop the spending abuse.
What happened to all that high-end "furniture" and the sculpture?
It all still occupies space on VA property. Nothing was sold or recovered. Even the 'cubed rock' sculpture with a price tag of $1.2 million - landscaping included - still sits in front of a medical facility. According to the facility director, the art "creates a healing environment."
Not sure who that’s helping. Certainly not the countless veterans waiting to see a doctor.
The VA should adopt a new policy that veterans’ art should be displayed in veterans’ medical centers - not fancy art. It's common sense, but the VA refused to implement our suggestion.