In a romantic view of democracy, legislators act with the interests of the general public in mind. They grapple with policy issues, work toward a broad consensus, and pass legislation that has strong support. They frequently reevaluate existing programs and prune the low-value and harmful ones. They put citizens first and limit their actions to those allowable under the U.S. Constitution.
The federal government spends almost $4 trillion a year. It has hundreds of agencies and runs more than 2,300 subsidy programs. It employs 2.1 million civilian workers, 1.4 million uniformed military personnel, and 560,000 postal workers. It is a huge organization.
We have released a study looking at cost overruns on government projects, such as weapon systems, light rail systems, and VA hospital construction.
The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a report finding waste in the department’s vast warehousing of equipment and supplies. Here are a few examples of the problems found by the IG:
The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars more each year than it collects in taxes. Those large budget deficits are financed by issuing growing amounts of debt. Federal debt now totals more than $13 trillion, or about $107,000 for every household in the nation.
Cleaning up the government’s nuclear weapons sites has become a vast sinkhole for taxpayer dollars. The Department of Energy (DOE) spends about $6 billion a year on environmental clean up of federal nuclear sites. These sites were despoiled in the decades following World War II with little notice taken by Congress. Then during the 1980s, a series of reports lambasted DOE for its lax safety and environmental standards, and federal polices began to change.
Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast and generated a huge disaster. The storm flooded New Orleans, killed more than 1,800 people, and caused $100 billion in property damage. The storm’s damage was greatly exacerbated by the failures of Congress, the Bush administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The world economy is getting rattled this week by the consequences of excessive government debt. Greece may be cut off from its international creditors, and Puerto Rico announced that it cannot make full payments on its massive debt. In both cases, years of excessive spending are sadly dealing a crushing blow to the living standards of millions of average citizens.
You may remember Texas Governor Rick Perry’s brutal stumble in the November 2011 Republican presidential debate. He launched into a bold statement about his budget-cutting strategy, but then he couldn’t remember the third federal department that he wanted to abolish: “Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there …”