Promoting 'Freedom of Expression' Will Cost State Department $750K
February 27, 2023
The State Department will spend $750,000 on projects that promote free expression for marginalized groups in the U.S. and other countries.
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor will fund “projects that have the goal to promote and protect Freedom of Expression for vulnerable or marginalized populations,” according to the grant description. “The focus should include women and girls in all their diversity; LGBTQI persons, transgender or gender-diverse persons in particular; migrants; members of marginalized racial, ethnic, and Indigenous communities, religious minority group members; and others targeted by anti-rights actors.”
Specifically, the State Department would like to see objectives like, “addressing targeted attacks on Freedom of Expression from anti-rights, authoritarian-aligned actors, including so-called ‘anti-gender’ initiatives.”
There are multiple problems with this grant. First, objectives steeped in intersectionality and fighting “anti-gender initiatives” would be controversial here in the U.S., but thanks to the broad leeway given to executive agencies, the government officially endorses and funds them abroad through grants like this.
Additionally, it’s difficult to understand exactly what type of project the State Department is expecting, and the grant provides little explanation or examples of what exactly this project will look like.
And of course, the hefty price tag of $750,000 is absurd for such an unspecific and non-critical grant. The goals of promoting free expression may be laudable, but they also almost assuredly could be accomplished with an investment half this size.
With more than $31 trillion in debt, it’s irresponsible to spend close to a million dollars on such a frivolous and controversial project.
Pentagon Used $358M Jet to Shoot Down Balloon
February 28, 2023
While the country was infatuated with the saga of the Chinese spy balloon, few people know the price tag of the equipment used to pop the balloon: a whopping $358.3 million, according to Reason.
The balloon was shot down by the American F-22 Raptor fighter jet, a top of the line aircraft that has been hailed as an "exponential leap in warfighting capabilities." It began development in 1986, and after decades of testing and refinement, officially entered service in the Air Force in 2005. The U.S. purchased 187 of these aircrafts from defense giant Lockheed Martin at a price tag of $67 billion, coming out to $358.3 million per plane.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, this pricey plane has seen little action since 2005, with the balloon being the aircraft's first air-to-air kill. Some may say that the F-22 is primarily for air to ground attacks, but $358 million is a hefty price tag for a plane with limited capability.
Moreover, the Department of Defense was given a budget of $404 billion for 2023 and has trillions of dollars’ worth of the most advanced weaponry ever made at its disposal. The DoD thought a $358 million aircraft with no prior confirmed air-to-air kills was the best tool it had at its disposal?
Taxpayers should be wondering: now that the balloon threat has subsided, what is the F-22 going to be used for?
IRS Employees Don’t Know How to Use Old Equipment
March 1, 2023
The IRS is using such ancient equipment and systems that they are having difficulties finding employees that know how to use the systems, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
Government technology often lags behind the private sector. In the case of the IRS, the technology is archaic. The GAO report found about 33% of applications, 23% of software, and 8% of hardware that the IRS uses daily is considered “legacy.”
Some of these legacy systems are 25 to 64 years old, with other software systems 15 version behind the currently available version. This means some of the systems the IRS uses today were implemented during the Eisenhower Administration.
According to the report, “In order to operate and maintain legacy systems, staff may need experience with older technology… Agencies have had difficulty finding employees with such knowledge and may have to pay a premium to hire specialized staff or contractors.”
In addition to staffing issues, other risks that these outdated systems pose include security risks, unmet mission needs, and increased maintenance costs.
Congress appropriated the IRS $12.6 billion in 2022, with an additional $80 billionover the next 10 years from the Inflation Reduction Act, yet somehow, the agency can’t find the money to update its systems with software from the 21st century.
Americans attempting to file their taxes with little support from the IRS can remember that at least part of the problem is decades-old equipment.
Throwback Thursday: In 1982, Social Security Admin. Duplicates Work
March 2, 2023
In 1982, the Social Security Administration spent $6.7 million – over $20 million in 2023 dollars – paying consultants to plan to move a computer center, a project that had already been successfully completed internally.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the Social Security Administration his Golden Fleece Award for this duplicative and wasteful project.
It all started with the Social Security Administration’s plan to move to a new computer center. Eleven members of the administration’s staff had thoroughly planned the move, with each member of the team having “the expressed capability to prepare comprehensive move plans.” This team’s task was “independently assuming full control and directly coordinating all activities” relating to the move.
Unfortunately, agency officials became worried that they would be blamed if the project failed. To insulate themselves from criticism, they hired teams of independent consultants to review the plans.
First, a team was hired for about $100,000 for six months to independently evaluate the project. Then, the same team was awarded another contract for “progress reviews” and to assess “relocation implementation planning,” and cost $650,000, almost double what it was initially expected to cost.
After two contracts, management decided they wanted a second opinion, so they hired another consultant to “provide the detailed planning” for the move, which cost a whopping $5.9 million, more than four times what it was initially expected to cost.
The practice of hiring consultants to insulate agencies from blame for projects gone wrong is a common and wasteful practice that continues to this day, but its far more egregious to do so after already dedicating resources to a project, only for the same work to be redone by expensive consultants.
$3.5B in U.S. Funds in Limbo in Switzerland
March 3, 2023
When Afghanistan fell in 2021, the U.S. Treasury seized $7 billion from Afghanistan’s central bank in a show of disapproval for the new Taliban government. Half of the funds were immediately sent back to America and given to 9/11 victims’ families. The other $3.5 billion, though, is locked up indefinitely in a Swiss investment fund to benefit the Afghan people.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the money in the fund is intended to benefit the Afghan people without directly funding the Taliban government. The U.S. is partially using the funds as leverage to encourage the Taliban to abandon illiberal policies, with promises of unfreezing the funds when they do. Until then, it will continue to sit in a fund at the Bank of International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.
Unfreezing the funds, however, is a complicated process. Currently, four individual trustees govern the fund, including two Afghans, one Swiss, and one American, and must unanimously agree on a use for the funds for them to be unfrozen.
To gain approval to unfreeze the funds, American officials want the Afghan Central Bank to show independence from the Taliban, and to counter money laundering and terrorism financing. Unfortunately, reforms are unlikely to come anytime soon, as the bank recently appointed an alleged terrorist financier to deputy chief of the bank. This financier is blacklisted by the U.S., European Union, and the United Nations.
There’s plenty of reasonable discourse on how America should balance aiding impoverished Afghan citizens without funding the Taliban. But it shouldn’t be controversial to take back the $3.5 billion, then distribute it as aid at a later date when the government sees fit. Letting it sit in a Swiss bank isn’t helping anyone.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.