Veteran Affairs Spent $2.3M on Unused Data Plans
July 18, 2022
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs wasted more than $2.3 million on unlimited data plans for phones and tablets that sat unused in storage, according to an auditby the VA Office of Inspector General.
The 10,000 iPhones and 80,930 iPads, which cost a combined $71.1 million, were intended to be sent to veterans to facilitate virtual healthcare visits with VA hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic. These devices had unlimited prepaid data plans that were activated immediately.
But the investigation found that 8,544, or about 85 percent, of the iPhones were still in storage over a year after their purchase, along with many iPads. Each of these unused devices had activated prepaid data plans, costing taxpayers $2.3 million.
The VA’s acquisition program has been flagged by the Government Accountability Office as high-risk since 2019, Citizens Against Government Waste reported, thanks to outdated acquisition policies, lack of strategy, training, and reliable data systems, limited oversight and instability in leadership.
The persistent failure of the VA to reform its acquisition practices is a disappointment to both American taxpayers and veterans. The millions that are wasted each year could be going to help care for veterans, but instead are lost because of poor management and outdated practices.
The VA had a budget of $268.5 billion in 2022, and is requesting $301.4 billion for 2023, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. Unfortunately, until the agency does the hard work of reforming its processes and policies, more money will likely lead to more waste.
CA Sends Gas Checks for $9.5B Without Lowering Tax
July 19, 2022
As gas prices rise throughout the country, Californians are being hit especially hard. But thanks to an almost $100 billion state surplus, they’ll see checks from the state government hit their bank account by October, Politico reported. That sounds fair. After all, Californians should get the surplus they paid into.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan is little more than theater intended to benefit from the gas crisis, giving the Democratic governor a political win. The checks are touted as a way to relieve the gas burden on Californians, but residents will get up to $1,050 regardless of whether they own or drive a car.
And while the state budget calls for a $47 billion multi-year infrastructure and transportation package, as well as a pause in state diesel sales taxes for a year beginning on Oct. 1, drivers will still be paying a regular gasoline tax.
And even more, the gas tax increased on July 1, hitting 53.9 cents per gallon — a 5.6 percent hike. State officials say the state needed the gas tax hike to keep up with inflation, Politico reported.
California has the highest average gas price in the nation at $6.00, according to AAA.
California’s high gas prices are due in part to taxes and regulatory programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which added $1.27 to the cost of a gallon of gas last month, according to a calculation by the Western States Petroleum Association The New York Times reported.
About 40 percent of that cost comes from the state’s gas tax, the Times reported. California taxes fuel at 51.1 cents per gallon, the second-highest amount in the nation after Pennsylvania, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
Newsom’s rebate check to alleviate high gas prices is nothing but a political show. If he really wanted to help California drivers, he’d lower the tax. At the very least he could have prevented it from increasing.
$5.8B Student Debt from Fraudulent Corinthian Colleges Erased
July 20, 2022
The 560,000 people who had enrolled in Corinthian College and still have student loan balances will have their debt, about $5.8 billion total, wiped clean by the U.S. Education Department.
The for-profit Corinthian, which operated from 1995 to 2015, committed one of the most notorious cases of fraud in American higher education, the Associated Press said.
At its peak, the college was one of the largest for-profit college companies, with more than 100 campuses and more than 110,000 students at a time, leading to the largest single loan discharge ever, according to the Education Department.
Students reported being pressured to enroll with promises of lucrative employment, only to end up with lots of debt and few job prospects, the AP reported. Federal officials also said the company lied when it told students their course credits could be transferred to other colleges.
When Vice President Kamala Harris was California’s attorney general, she worked with the Obama administration to uncover how the college was falsifying data on the success of its graduates, the AP reported.
Some of the campuses reported that students found jobs in their fields of study when they were working at grocery stores or fast-food chains.
Harris called the $5.8 billion discharge a milestone in “a journey for justice for everyone who was defrauded” and will “put real money in the pockets of real people.” While students should have some recourse for being victims of fraud, the cost of the scheme shouldn’t be tossed onto the backs of taxpayers.
Throwback Thursday: In 1974, Navy Spent $1.1 Million to Fly Officers to Private Event
July 21, 2022
As the country was amid an energy crisis, in September 1974, the U.S. Navy used 64 aircraft to fly 1,334 officers to the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas for a reunion of the private Tailhook Association.
The flights cost more than $191,000 in taxpayer funds — $1.1 million in 2022 dollars — and “squandered 347,000 gallons of fuel in the midst of the most severe energy crisis the nation has ever faced,” Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said.
He gave the Navy a Golden Fleece award in September 1975 for wasteful and nonsensical spending. The Tailhook Association is a non-profit fraternal organization, supporting the interests of sea-based aviation, including aircraft carriers.
The chief of naval operations authorized the flights, which had nothing to do with changing of stations but were simply to fly people to a private, non-governmental event.
“The giant airlift was of such magnitude that it required the assignment of 13 Navy personnel for ground support and administration,” Proxmire said.
Planes left for Las Vegas from California, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, Nebraska, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Washington D.C.
“This utter disregard for tax dollars and complete mockery of the national energy program can only be described as calculated stupidity,” the senator said then. “The generals and admirals should spend a lot more time in the Pentagon and a lot less time in Las Vegas at public expense.”
Fed Government to Pay $7B for NY/NJ Tunnel Project
July 22, 2022
A stalled project to dig new train tunnels under the Hudson River to connect New Jersey commuters to Manhattan for work recently crossed an important threshold and the governors of the two states agreed to split the state costs of the massive project.
NJ Gov. Phil Murphy and NY Gov. Kathy Hochul agreed to evenly split their share of the $14 billion first phase of the project — known as Gateway, The New York Times reported.
But it’s not as if each state will pay $7 billion each. Not even close. The federal government is expected to cover at least half of the cost.
We don’t know for sure because the states had to come to a funding agreement before federal officials would entertain how much they’d pay for their share.
Neither of the two states specified how they planned to pay for their portions, although New Jersey did previously say that it would raise some of its share by issuing bonds. This project has been stalled for the four years of Donald Trump’s administration after he swore the massive infrastructure overhaul wouldn’t get federal funding.
The project had issues even before that, with then-NJ Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and then-NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, scrapped a tentative funding agreement. During all the political disagreements, the price tag was going up.
Only one year ago the project was slated to cost $11.6 billion.
While transportation officials, politicians and other transit experts say this project is needed — the New York Times described it as “among the most ambitious and important transportation projects in the country” — $14 billion is a lot to ask taxpayers to hand over.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.