Congress Gets 'Huge' Pay Raise Thanks to Reimbursements
February 6, 2023
Thanks to a recent policy change in the U.S. House of Representatives, members of Congress will now be able to claim reimbursement for lodging, meals, and incidentals this year, which Capitol Hill reporters say amounts to a “huge pay raise.”
Bloomberg reported that under the new policy, Congress can now be reimbursed by taxpayers for expenses incurred when they are in Washington, D.C. on official business. Expenses like hotel rooms, meals, and apartments can be expensed at a per diem rate, which is still being determined.
This was a bipartisan change made under recommendation of the House Select Committee on Modernization of Congress, which cited the need for members to pay for two residences (in their home state and in D.C.), as well as per diem expensing that the executive branch, but not the legislative branch, enjoys. No member on the bipartisan committee opposed the policy.
Members of Congress receive a salary of $174,000, with members in leadership positions receiving slightly more. The last pay raise for members came in 2009, and there are not automatic cost of living adjustments.
The amount the new reimbursements will cost taxpayers depends on the exact per diem rates, which are still being worked out. The per diem rate for the executive branch is currently at $157, with $98 of that for lodging and $59 for meals and incidental expenses, according to the General Services Administration.
Whatever the rate is, the expenses will add up quickly for over 435 House members.
Congress’ current salary already puts them in the 92nd percentile of Americans based on income, and giving more to members that work four days a week is inappropriate, especially in a time of runaway spending and inflation.
EPA to Spend $3M on Grants for Cleaner Cooking Methods
February 7, 2023
The Environmental Protection Agency is spending $3 million to explore cleaner cooking methods and ways to reduce household energy emissions.
“Three billion people around the world, including 600,000 low-income Americans, cook their food and/or heat their homes over open fires or with rudimentary stoves using biomass fuel (e.g., wood, dung, crop residues) and/or coal,” according to the funding opportunity.
It adds that, “emissions from these practices expose people to extraordinarily high levels of indoor air pollution that causes approximately 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide annually.”
It also emphasizes the negative impact the carbon emissions these cooking and heating practices have on the climate.
To remedy this, the grant will support research that will increase the use of clean, reliable, affordable, efficient, and safe home cooking and heating practices.
It specifically emphasizes that this research should be conducted in, “Africa, Asia, and Latin America to identify effective approaches, share lessons learned, and more rapidly assimilate insights and innovations from around the world into strategies and programs being deployed in these areas of the world.”
It’s fairly obvious that most using wood stoves and open fires are doing so because of poverty. It doesn’t take $3 million to conclude that a solution to this is funding safer and more efficient heat sources.
Congress Spends $3.6M on Michelle Obama Trail in GA
February 8, 2023
As part of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed in December, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) earmarked $3.6 million to extend the Michelle Obama Trail outside of Atlanta.
The hiking trail was constructed in 2018, and originally spanned 3.8 miles, connecting Georgia State University’s Clarkston campus to Gresham Park, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It was extended another 2.2 miles in 2021.
The federal funds will go toward another extension: 4.5 miles that will connect Waldrop Road to Martin Luther King Jr. High School. Eventually, the county hopes the trail will connect with the proposed Michelle Obama Park, and join a network of nearly 22 miles of trails as part of the local PATH project.
While the details of the new trail construction are unclear, previous stretches of the trail cost $3.9 million and included a “12-foot-wide path primarily consisting of concrete and sections of a wooden boardwalk and two steel truss bridges,” according to a county press release. Prior funding for this project came from local sources, like the Dekalb County government where the trail is located.
Rep. Johnson secured a total of $15 million in earmarks for his district, including $4 million for a youth facility, $1.5 million for the “Memorial Drive Gateways project,” and $400,000 for Georgia State University for programs to “expand access to postsecondary education, including English language proficiency support.”
This hiking trail project should be funded locally like it has been for years.
Throwback Thursday: Department of Education Spent $893,000 on Consultants
February 9, 2023
In 1986, the U.S. Department of Education spent $893,000 – over $2.4 million in 2023 dollars – on useless contracts with consulting firms.
Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the Department of Education his Golden Fleece Award for this useless spending.
According to Proxmire, an undersecretary first directed that a $355,000 noncompetitive grant be given to a consulting firm that was judged to be unqualified to do the work required.
Staff raised concerns about this, but the undersecretary directed the grant be awarded anyway, Proxmire said. The staff was ultimately right, the work was useless, and the spending spree began.
Next, near the end of the year, $238,000 was spent for a firm to set up three regional conferences. But the task was never performed, and the money wasted.
In another year-end spending attempt, the department spent $300,000 to prepare job descriptions using a computer. That work was never completed either.
Both grants issued at the end of the year were examples of use-it-or-lose-it spending, where federal agencies spend the remainder of their allocated money so as to not have their budget reduced the following year.
The department said in response that they would do a better job of vetting grants to avoid waste like this in the future, but as Proxmire aptly notes, “Students this thickheaded should flunk. So should the Department of Education.”
Veterans Affairs Made $307M in Duplicate Payments
February 10, 2023
From Jan. 1, 2017 to March 31, 2021, the Veterans Heath Administration, under the control of the Department of Veterans Affairs, made more than 425,000 duplicate payments that cost taxpayers more than $307 million, according to a VA Department Inspector General report.
According to the report, the Veterans Health Administration oversees veterans’ healthcare for the VA. When it authorizes community care for a veteran who is eligible for both VHA and Medicare benefits, VHA is responsible for paying for that care even when Medicare also covers the same service, which has lead to the duplicate payments.
Typically, Medicare is the agency that can recover these payments since it’s primarily the VHA’s responsibility to pay for the care.
These duplicate payments added up quickly, and over a span of 4 years, the VA made close to half a million duplicate payments worth more than $307 million in claims for community care.
The Inspector General report notes that the VA did not have a process in place to identify or manage these duplicate payments. It has also never conducted a review to identify past instances of duplicate payments.
These problems could have been avoided if the agency, which receives $52.9 billion in funding, had simply implemented the accounting controls that any private sector business would have in place.
In response, the Inspector General recommended the VA work with Medicare to share data about payments, as well as identify payments that are likely to be duplicated, and clean up administrative processes before care is provided.
Our veterans deserve better than an agency that can’t bother to implement basic accounting controls.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.