Whether it’s animal waste or government waste, it all stinks. The former can at least be used as fertilizer; the latter has no such redeeming value. It lies there, consumes valuable human and financial resources and smells up the place. Throw fraud and abuse into the mix, and you wind up with a concoction so foul that no self-respecting swamp dweller would venture near it.
As of September, the average American would estimate that the federal government wastes 51 cents out of every dollar it spends. That’s an all-time high since 1979, the year Gallup started asking this question. Of course, these estimates weren’t calculated through any scientific or accounting study — it’s just how we feel.
As if to confirm this theory, the General Services Administration got caught red-faced and red-handed, now serving as the poster child for waste. The scandal began with the discovery of the agency’s extravagant Las Vegas conference, symbolized by the photograph of GSA executive Jeff Neely sitting in a hot tub with two glasses of wine and a goofy grin on his face. That uproar started an avalanche of other examples of waste within that agency that continues to this day.
Examples include other lavish and questionable conferences, at least $44 million in undisclosed employee bonuses and some 14,000 vacant or under-utilized federal properties under the GSA’s management.
The waste isn’t limited to one agency, however — it’s spread throughout government. Even the judiciary isn’t exempt. While the GSA’s excesses were being excoriated in Congress, the judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were winging their way to a conference of their own in Maui, costing the taxpayers an estimated $1 million.
We also see it all the way down to local government. Rather than maintain the old City Hall, West Palm Beach chose to build a new one. Under then-Mayor Lois Frankel’s stewardship, construction costs skyrocketed from $50 million to $150 million. When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Frankel replied (after a 30-second-plus pause), “In challenging times, taking the city to a new level of vibrancy.”
What Frankel chooses not to realize is that “in challenging times,” it’s often better to dig in and reassess. But she doesn’t have to take my word for it; she can ask the mayor of Stockton, Calif., which recently declared itself bankrupt under Chapter 9. The city chose to take itself “to a new level of vibrancy,” during the real estate boom years and embarked upon a citywide building-frenzy. Since the market collapsed, it’s been paying the price.
The revamping continues unabated in West Palm Beach, including the lakefront South Cove Natural Area and Clematis Streetscape Project. Many of these projects receive matching funds from other governmental entities, but that doesn’t make them free. It just means we pay for them with another level of taxes.
As I was walking into a Clematis Street shop a few weeks back, I noticed that all the planters stretching down the entire length of the block contained nothing but dirt — the week before they were filled with beautiful, well-maintained greenery. I asked the shop-owner what had happened to the plants. She said the city had dug them up, and would be replacing them with new plants.
This is reminiscent of conservative activist James O’Keefe’s latest project to unearth waste, fraud and abuse in government and unions. In this clip, he sells union bosses on digging holes to fill them back up again. It’s hilarious — until you realize it’s your money that’s paying for this.
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