Our bloated government does a lot of things it shouldn’t, but the decennial census is one of the handful of federal activities the Constitution approves of. The census was intended simply to determine the number of seats each state would have in the House of Representatives. Today, census data is plugged into government formulas to determine how more than $400 billion in subsidies from the federal welfare state are allocated to state and local governments.
The U.S. Postal Service lost $3.8 billion last fiscal year and expects to lose $7.8 billion this year. That hasn’t prevented employees from indulging in fancy foods and booze on the USPS’s dime. A recent audit by the USPS inspector general found $800,000 in unjustified and “imprudent” purchases, most of which occurred in just a five month span.
A couple of weeks ago I discussed a New York Times report on soaring food stamp use. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that cash welfare use in New York under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program started to rise more recently. The Times calls this “something of a riddle” given that food stamp usage has been increasing throughout the recession.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan recently gave a speech in New York in which he spoke of a “new direction in housing.” If there’s one constant with cabinet secretaries, it’s that they all promise that their department will be new and improved. The following are a few of Donovan’s lines that deserve comment.
It’s not uncommon to hear the claim made that the “stimulus” would have had a greater economic impact had the money been focused on infrastructure. But proponents of public “investment” in infrastructure seem to forget that the government allocates capital on the basis of politics rather than economics. Government is naturally inefficient because it is immune to the market signals that guide private actors who stand to lose their own money should an investment not pan out.
That’s the title of a column in the December issue of Governing authored by Donald Kettl, the dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. According to Kettl, the federal government’s new “stinginess” is being directed toward state and local governments. Stinginess? Didn’t he hear about Obama’s $800 billion state bail-out/stimulus bill?