House OKs $1.5 Trillion Bill in Just 24 Hours
March 14, 2022
The House of Representative released a $1.5 trillion, 2,741-page omnibus spending bill in the middle of the night on March 9 and passed it only about 24 hours after it was released, according to The Hill.
While there was little time to review what’s actually in the bill, we already know that it includes lots of wasteful spending.
There’s $3 million for a fisherman’s coop facility in Guam, $1 million for a “farm-to-refrigerator training facility” in Pennsylvania, $2.5 million for a museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and $2 million for George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.
This omnibus bill funds the federal government through September by packaging different funding goals into one massive piece of legislation.
Of course, it would take days for members of Congress, even with the help of their staff, to read through a 2,700 page bill and know what they were voting on. Nonetheless, Speaker Nancy Pelosi intended to vote on it only several hours after it was released, The Hill reported.
That plan was foiled when members of her own party opposed plans to reallocate Covid-19 funds from states to help pay for the federal response to the pandemic, according to the report. Eventually, a deal was made, and the bill passed later that night, according to The Hill.
Included in the massive bill is $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, $782 billion in defense spending and $730 billion in non-defense spending, Roll Call reported.
Republicans celebrated a 5.6 percent increase to the Pentagon’s budget, while Democrats cheered the 6.7 percent increase in spending on social programs and additional funding for executive agencies.
The bill now heads to the Senate for approval.
OpenTheBooks.com has sponsored a petition called “Read the Bill” that calls on Congress to publicly post its bills at least 72 hours before a vote so the public, media, and members can understand what is being voted on.
Trains in Our Nation’s Capital Waste Millions, Derailed by Problems
March 15, 2022
Ask any Washington, D.C. resident how much they love the Metro, and they’ll candidly inform you that it’s dingy, dirty and plagued by delays and crime.
It has somehow managed to get worse. After derailments presented safety issues, the D.C. transit authority took all of its 7000 series cars, or about half of the fleet, off the track, resulting in substantial delays and reductions of service. To make matters worse, these problems occurred even after the federal government gave the agency $723 million.
In April 2021, the D.C. transit authority announced that it received the $723 million in federal funding to pad its FY 2022 budget. Of that, $193.4 million came from the American Rescue Plan Act. The funding “helped Metro close a budget gap that eliminated the need for drastic bus and rail service cuts, station closures, and employee layoffs,” according to a press release from the agency.
That was before the Blue Line train derailed in October 2021.
In January 2022, the agency announced it still doesn’t know what happened, and that it won’t return these cars to service for at least another 90 days, meaning the delays and reductions in service will continue.
On top of derailments, in November 2021, car brake smoking caused the agency to temporarily close a portion of the metro system.
All this money still can’t fix the woeful mismanagement that plagues the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and it’s an embarrassment that our nation’s capital can’t provide reliable, safe, and efficient service to the seat of our government.
U.S. Dept. of State Thinks It’s an Authority on Fake News
March 16, 2022
Some say America has a fake news problem. They might be on to something.
Americans’ trust in our media is at one of its lowest points, and social media has made disinformation easy to spread. But as America is tackling its own fake news problem, our government is pretending to be experts on it in Zimbabwe. In fact, the U.S. is sending $100,000 to Zimbabwe to help that country tackle fake news, according to a grant notice from the U.S. Department of State.
The grant description states that the goal of the grant is, “To improve and promote adherence to international best practice in implementing fundamental freedom of speech and the press freedom.”
It encourages a three-pronged approach: Strengthening public understanding of freedom of speech and press freedom, improving media literacy to combat disinformation and increasing media sustainability, innovation and professionalization.
The idea that the U.S. is an expert on disinformation, free speech, and combating censorship, and that it should be teaching them to other countries, is absurd.
Between domestic debates on big tech censorship, the increasing polarization of news outlets, and increasing disinformation on social media, the U.S. has no business telling other countries the right way to do such things, let alone spending tax dollars to do so.
Throwback Thursday: If a $1M Building Collapses Without Anyone Knowing, Does It Really Collapse?
March 17, 2022
An unused community center and incomplete road in rural Michigan cost taxpayers $279,000 in 1979 — more than $1 million in 2022 dollars. Such was the neglect that, when the building collapsed, no one knew for days.
That year, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave Golden Fleece awards to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for wasteful and nonsensical spending.
HUD paid $100,000 for the construction of the center in rural Merrill Township, Michigan between 1975 and 1979, "deep in a woods, half-way between two small towns."
Then, the Department of Commerce’ group spent $179,000 on a never-completed road to the center.
A woodsman spotted the collapsed building on Feb. 22, 1979, and reported it to the local postmaster, who called the local sheriff and town supervisor who relayed the news to HUD's Detroit office. No one knows the precise date of the building's downfall, Proxmire reported in 1979.
The center was designed to be used for counseling, food stamp distribution, literacy classes, job training, and other vital township community services.
But it lay idle — unpainted, un-landscaped, and unfurnished — from its completion that year until its collapse.
The original request for the road was $290,000 but it was reduced to $179,000, an amount insufficient to complete it. At the time the center collapsed, the new road led to nowhere, Proxmire said.
“Among the tragedy of errors, no proper records were kept,” Proxmire said. “Virtually everyone shuns responsibility.”
The unused community center built on a site in the middle of nowhere was inaccessible by public roads and “collapsed without anyone knowing it after the expenditure of $279,000 of public funds and four years of time and effort,” Proxmire said.
State Department Can’t Keep Track of $4.7 Billion in Expenses
March 18, 2022
The U.S. State Department needs some serious help managing its $58.5 billion budget. According to a report from the U.S. Inspector General, in 2020, the State Department improperly labeled $4.7 billion worth of expenses in a miscellaneous category: “Not Otherwise Classified.”
According to the report, the independent audit uncovered that 35 of 180 expenses reviewed should have been classified and accounted for in an existing budget code to help label, track, and review spending.
The reason so many expenses were labeled incorrectly is that employees didn’t know how to classify the expenses, according to the report. If they weren’t sure what category it belonged in, they labeled it “Not Otherwise Classified” and called it a day. Imagine if the accounting department of a Fortune 500 company did this.
The report also states, “the Department does not have sufficient guidance on the use of [budget codes]” and specifically called attention to the use of the generic not otherwise classified budget codes. It wasn’t the employees’ fault, nobody at the State Department knows how to keep track of your tax dollars.
Misclassification of funds may not seem like a big deal, but improper classification makes aggressive oversight almost impossible. These budget codes are one of the main tools used to forensically audit agencies to ensure money is being spent properly.
The report clarifies, “Recording expense data to the appropriate [budget object code] is essential for management officials to have complete and accurate data when assessing spending patterns and determining how funds were used.”
Accuracy in accounting should be the bare minimum we ask of our agencies.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.