Waste of the Day: $95 Billion Squandered Disposing of Radioactive Sludge
October 30, 2023
The Department of Energy’s massive Hanford Cleanup project in Washington State is expected to cost between $300 billion and $640 billion over the next few decades, but a recent Government Accountability Office report found that the department could save $95 billion if it changes course.
The Hanford Site has 54 million gallons of highly radioactive sludge left from producing the plutonium in America’s atomic bombs, including the one dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945.
The GAO report explains how changing the primary method of disposal currently used could reduce costs. Hanford’s current approach to cleaning up low activity waste uses a long and expensive process called vitrification to encase the hazardous waste in glass.
However, an alternative method exists and has been successful in other locations. This method encases the waste in a cement-like mixture and is “significantly cheaper” while accomplishing the same objective, according to GAO.
This new approach could save the Department of Energy $95 billion over the next 50 to 60 years and has been successful at other locations where similar waste was being cleaned up. At other sites, the cost per gallon of this approach was $200, while the proposed vitrification at Hanford is projected to cost $1,400 per gallon.
In addition to the cost savings, this method might also be safer, with the GAO finding this method “could reduce certain risks by treating the waste faster.” GAO also identified several nearby locations for the disposal of the waste.
While these techniques might save tens of billions of dollars, it’s ridiculous that the Energy Department didn’t confer with the GAO first to ask for their recommendations and build them into its plan. If any cost savings come from this report, it’s thanks to the diligence of the GAO, not the planning of the Energy Department.
Loudon County, Va., Officials Spend $100,000 Of Taxpayer Money Traveling
October 31, 2023
Taxpayers in Virginia have been footing the bills for its elected officials to travel to Ghana and Uruguay, flying business class and staying in upgraded beachfront hotel rooms.
Loudoun County Chair Phyllis Randall has traveled at taxpayer expense to those countries, and Loudoun County Supervisors Sylvia Glass and Koran Saines joined Randall on a $60,000 luxury trip to Ghana in the name of promoting a sister city on the West African coast, ABC News15 reported.
Their stay at a hotel overlooked the beach and included a spa and casino.
Taxpayers also paid for their food, as well as business class airline tickets for Randall, her chief-of-staff and for Supervisor Juli Briskman.
Taxpayers also paid $1,800 for an ambassador reception for 70 people that Randall and Briskman attended, as well as more than $3,200 for Randall and Briskman to be transported via private van to various meetings at wineries, the news outlet reported.
The county also hired a production company to film Randall, Saines and Glass as they visited Ghana.
In Ghana, Randall upgraded her hotel room when her husband accompanied her on the trip – costing taxpayers twice as much. Since 7News’ reporting, Randall paid back some, but not all the upgraded cost.
The Uruguay trip cost $33,000, while the Ghana trip cost $66,000.
Randall defended the trips, claiming they bring jobs and investments to Loudoun County.
“2,500 new jobs, $1.37 billion in investment, over 100 new businesses, and 27 businesses in just the past two years. That's a very big return,” Randall told 7News in July.
But the news outlet claimed there was not a single job or investment that came from Loudoun County sister cities.
While officials are free to make partnerships with sister cities, flying multiple people business class to stay in beachfront hotel rooms on the taxpayer dime is an obvious waste.
$800,000 to Texas Organization That Distributes Crack Pipes
November 1, 2023
The Department of Health and Human Services has sent over $800,000 to a group in Texas where they distribute crack pipes, according to the Dallas Express.
The Dallas Express found that the funding comes from the Biden Administration’s push for harm reduction initiatives for drug usage. The funds were sent to the El Paso Alliance, a non-profit that helps people recover from alcoholism and drug addictions, according to its website.
The El Paso Alliance has used the funds to distribute “smoke kits” to residents, which include “small, cylinder glass,” despite the distribution and possession of drug paraphernalia in Texas being banned by state law. Selling, offering, or mailing drug paraphernalia is also in violation of federal law.
Texas wasn’t the only state to receive federal funds for drug paraphernalia. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s grant dashboard, cities across the country have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for these “harm reduction” programs.
New York, for example, has received about $4 million worth of these funds, while California has received about $3.2 million. The grant descriptions claim the grants’ purpose is, “to support community-based overdose prevention programs, syringe services programs, and other harm reduction services.”
The dashboard shows HHS awarded 25 grants in 2022 and another 25 grants in 2023.
While the president is free to pursue the administration’s agenda as he sees fit, it’s wrong to use federal funds for programs that violate existing federal and state laws.
Throwback Thursday: Congress Hires Staff, Builds More Office Space
November 2, 2023
In 1975, Congress expanded, hiring more staffers for the Senate and House, and more space in new buildings, costing the taxpayer $108 million — $618 million in 2023 dollars — earning Congress a Golden Fleece award in June of that year.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the administration for its wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.
The award was given to Congress “for living high off the hog while much of the rest of the country is suffering economic disaster,” Proxmire wrote in 1975.
In its self-indulgent spending spree, the Senate approved the addition of up to three new committee staff employees per senator at $34,000 each salary — almost $195,000 in 2023. While Proxmire assumed not all senators would use their allotment adding up to $10 million, he estimated they would spend between $4 million and $6 million.
Earlier in the year, the House of Representatives increased expense allowances for equipment, travel, newsletters, phones and more by $23,000 per member, for a total of $10 million.
The House also added another 735 staff positions, costing a minimum of $6 million.
Of course, with all this new staff, they needed more space, so the Senate began constructing a third office building at a price tag of $85 million.
“The ultimate congressional absurdity is the $1.3 million the House will spend to automate 19 elevators but retain the operators to run them,” Proxmire said. The House was following the lead of the Senate, which already had automatic elevators in the Dirksen Office Building but kept their elevator operators.
“Congress owes it to the public to live simply,” Proxmire said. “In their prerequisites and style of living, Senators and Congressmen should not be too far removed from the trials and tribulations of the average citizen whom they represent.”
New Baltimore Police Training Could Cost $330 Million
November 3, 2023
A plan to relocate Baltimore’s police training academy to a state-of-the-art facility has a price tag of at least $330 million, The Baltimore Sun reported.
In 2020, the Baltimore Police Department moved its training facility to the University of Baltimore, where it has a five-year lease with annual rent roughly $1.4 million.
The Baltimore PD is under a 2017 consent decree with the Department of Justice to remedy constitutional violations. As part of that, the DOJ found the police department had deficient training infrastructure, including “outdated, ill-repaired” facilities. They relocated to the University of Baltimore to remedy that.
The DOJ said that relocation significantly upgraded its training spaces, but it also found ongoing issues with the shooting ranges, which it said would need to be remedied before it was in compliance with the consent decree.
Recently $450,000 in state money was used for an architectural firm to create a "preliminary design report" to relocate the training facility to Coppin State University, for an estimated $330 million, for a state-of-the-art facility.
Democratic state Sen. Antonio Hayes secured the $450,000 from the Maryland General Assembly for the study and acknowledged the estimated price tag is “a lot.”
He said that creating the facility would require the “political will of participating parties.” No funding sources have been identified, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said that the initial study is “just beginning to be assessed.” He didn’t say whether the project would be a priority for his administration.
Police training is important and a community’s trust in their police is also important, but such a pricey facility shouldn’t be built just because an architectural firm drew it up.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.