Senate Dems Want $21B for Covid-19, Other Viruses
August 22, 2022
Senate Democrats have asked for another $21 billion to fight coronavirus and other outbreaks. That’s after $4.3 trillion in federal funds have been allocated so far to Covid-19 related spending.
At what point do Americans say “enough is enough"?
Democrats argue the funds will be needed to combat the coronavirus “and prepare for other emerging outbreaks, including potentially monkeypox, hoping to boost tests, treatments and vaccines in response to growing public health threats,” The Washington Post reported.
It’s part of a package of bills to fund the government for the next fiscal year that’s mostly written by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Of the total, $16 billion would be set aside for a key program at the Department of Health and Human Services to fight the coronavirus, through tests, vaccines, medical supplies, and research for existing and future strains, The Washington Post reported.
Another $5 billion would be used to support other countries fighting the pandemic.
It has been two-and-a-half years since the outbreak of Covid-19. Out-of-control spending can no longer be justified by saying it’s used to fight the coronavirus or to research existing and future strains.
Congress must do a better job of justifying this insane level of spending. And if it can’t, it must respect the taxpayers — who fund the spending — and go back to the table and make cuts.
NY’s Governor Hochul Heavily Using Taxpayer-Funded Airplanes
August 23, 2022
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s flights — including what appear to be personal trips — in her first seven months in office have cost taxpayers at least $170,000, while average New Yorkers struggle to fill their gas tanks.
Hochul, a Democrat, has been avoiding traffic in this election year. She hopped on either a state helicopter or airplane 140 times in the first seven months since she took office last August, The New York Post reported.
Her flights on a Sikorsky 76D operated by state police costs taxpayers about $2,500 per hour, while a Beechcraft King Air airplane runs about $1,300 per hour. The governor’s flight time and estimated costs per hour add up to cost taxpayers somewhere around $170,000.
Many of Hochul’s flights appear to be for work: attending meetings, events, and press briefings. Others look like personal use, The Post reported.
In September, she took a flight from New York City with her husband Bill Hochul on a state-owned Beechcraft King Air 350 to attend the Buffalo Bills home opener, the only event listed on her public schedule.
Another questionable trip occurred in November when the governor and her husband flew on a state plane from New York City to Buffalo following a commercial flight after a Democratic Party event in Puerto Rico.
Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst at good government group Reinvent Albany, questioned Hochul’s trips.
“When there is state business it is appropriate to use state aircraft but where it bleeds into personal or campaign business that should be paid for by the governor herself or campaign – not the taxpayers,” Fauss told The Post.
Four Years Behind, Washington DC Metro Extension Gets Another $250M
August 24, 2022
A project to extend Washington D.C. Metro’s Silver Line is four years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget, with another $250 million in additional funding recently approved.
The additional funding will go to the second phase of the project, The Washington Post reported, pushing the total for phase one to about $3 billion, matching that of the first phase, for a total of about $6 billion.
The line was originally set to be completed in 2018. The first phase of the rail line began carrying passengers in July 2014, six months late and more than $220 million over budget.
It added five stops, and the second phase will add six more stops to the Metro system, The Washington Post reported. The extension will bring Metro service into Loudoun County and include a stop at Washington Dulles International Airport.
Of the additional $250 million, about $188 million will be funded by users of Dulles Toll Road.
Fairfax and Loudoun counties, which created special tax districts to pay for most of their portions of the rail project, will pay an additional $40 million and an additional $12 million, respectively.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversaw construction of the project, will front an additional $10 million.
Among other things, the additional funding will pay for claims by contractors for compensation tied to delays.
Metro can also tap into $33 million to cover expenses for issues that arose during construction, like issues with track work and defective panels installed at five of the six new stations. Another pool of $15 million was created to cover maintenance and upkeep for the rail line’s first phase.
The newspaper described the project as one “that has been plagued by construction irregularities and political finger-pointing” and is the first rail extension not built by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The arrangement between the two agencies caused tension when they disagreed on elements of the project, WaPo reported.
“MWAA officials blamed the overruns on the project’s complexity, an increase in the cost of building materials, supply chain slowdowns and coronavirus-related restrictions,” the newspaper reported.
Throwback Thursday: In 1976, National Center for Health Services Messes Up $20M in Grants and Contracts
August 25, 2022
In June 1976, the National Center for Health Services received a Golden Fleece Award after it was revealed that more than $20 million of their grants and contracts — more than $104 million in 2022 dollars — were routinely not completed on time, cost up to five time the original contract, and “contained low quality and highly questionable results.”
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave awards to wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.
The senator requested an audit from the General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, which found that one seven-year project to develop a comprehensive computer system for patients medical and billing records cost more than $10 million but the data in the project was not only unavailable to the public but to the National Center for Health Services — now the National Center for Health Statistics — itself.
Another one-year study originally cost $325,000, ballooned into a four-year, $1.25 million project.
That project was supposed to compare the costs of different medical offerings, like group practice or solo fee for services, or use of paramedics.
"An evaluation in the third year, but after the contract was increased by $930,000, and extended to four years, found that, '… the work had generally been of low quality.'"
It found that of the 48 papers produced, only one was published and that was in a low-quality journal and that the “work would neither contribute to or expand the existing body of … knowledge … or be particularly useful for policy formulation.”
After spending yet another $1.6 million to study “how to make hospitals, clinics and other health care institutions more efficient, a group of experts found that data provided by the study was of low quality and of questionable value and that the project director was relatively uninformed in the health services field,” Proxmire summarized.
Beyond the problems with the specific studies, the GAO audit found, “The Center lacks the ability to determine whether goals are achieved.”
It also found that 67 percent of all contracts were noncompetitive awards.
The audit “indicates to this senator that the Center more than rivals the Pentagon in cost overruns, modified contracts and late deliveries,” Proxmire said.
CA County With Three Sets of Books Got $17M from the American Rescue Act
August 26, 2022
A new jail construction project in Mendocino County, California is at least $7 million over budget, but by exactly how much is unclear, as county officials don’t know which of the municipality’s three sets of books is correct.
That’s right, Mendocino County Board of Supervisors doesn’t know which accounting records correctly represent the county’s finances.
Board chair, Supervisor Ted Williams, said earlier this month said the state controller’s office should be asked “to help us get our books in order, Truth In Accounting reported, as the board is amid a budgeting process.
It’s also an issue for members of SEIU Local 1021, the union that represents the bulk of the county’s employees, who filed a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Board last month, seeking financial information as they negotiate their contract.
The county was awarded almost $17 million from the American Rescue Plan Act but like the rest of the county’s funds, it’s unclear how it’s being spent.
Maria Avalos of UVA, a Latino advocacy group, noted that more than $4 million of the ARPA funds were allocated for core county services and infrastructure and asked for more details about how those funds will be spent, Truth In Accounting reported.
“So I’m just wondering, where is the breakdown of where that money will go?” she asked during a recent public comment portion of a board meeting. “Will it be able to be found by the public? And how is the local government making the decision to use the funds? And will there be public input?”
Williams, frustrated with the lack of financial accountability, noted that while the county receives outside audits, it doesn’t necessarily adopt the recommendations.
“It means we’re paying for an outside audit, we’re getting advice about changes we need to make to meet accounting principles. And then we’re ignoring the advice,” he said.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.