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Opinion

Opinion

Misdirected checks costly to U.S.

September 28, 2011

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There isn’t much about dysfunctional government that shocks me anymore, but this story did.

According to a report by the Office of Personnel Management and reported in Ed O’Keefe’s “The Federal Eye” column in the Washington Post, our government has been sending checks to dead people. “In the last five years,” O’Keefe writes, “the Office of Personnel Management has made more than $601 million in payments to dead federal retirees, according to the agency’s inspector general. Total annual payouts range between $100 million and $150 million.”

This isn’t something new. Inspector General Patrick McFarland had urged OPM in 2005 and again in 2008 to more closely monitor such payments. It appears his advice has gone unheeded.

“Improper payments to dead retirees are up 70 percent in the last five years,” cites the OPM report. In one outrageous case, the son of a deceased annuitant kept receiving federal benefits for 37 years after his father’s death. OPM didn’t learn about the improper payments until after the son died. Of course, the agency never recovered any of the money. Could this be why the government has no qualms about spending other people’s money?

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, conducted an investigation and reported last October on his findings. Coburn discovered that “the federal government had paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000. That same month, a watchdog reported that the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program had made 89,000 payments of $250 each to dead or incarcerated people,” writes O’Keefe.

As congressional Democrats and Republicans play another round of “chicken” over what, if anything, can be cut from the bloated budget and engage in phony theatrics over another possible government shutdown, those members who wish to be more responsible with other people’s money ought to make the issue of wasteful spending central to the upcoming campaign.

After removing the dead and incarcerated from the federal payroll, they can go after an agency that touches all Americans: the U.S. Postal Service. According to Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org), “The USPS has 600,000 employees and is the second largest employer in America behind Wal-Mart. The USPS Office of Inspector General reported that employees were paid $21.9 million for 875,540 hours of ‘stand-by’ time in FY 2010, and $4.3 million for 170,666 hours in the first half of FY 2011. The USPS also has a 24 percent vacancy rate in its 284 million square feet of interior office space.”

The problem is that once a federal agency or program is started, it is easier to find an honest politician than it is to cut something from the budget. Ronald Reagan noted the only proof of eternal life on Earth is a government program. Being dead does not have to remove one from the “spread the wealth” mentality of the current administration, or any administration. Misspending is clearly bipartisan.

Then there’s Solyndra, the California solar panel company that received half a billion dollars in loan guarantees and then declared bankruptcy. Solyndra officials invoked the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination last week before a congressional committee.

Also last week, Senate Democrats rejected a continuing spending resolution passed by the House because, among other reasons, it contains cuts in the very solar energy program that funded Solyndra. So just because a company or a person dies does not necessarily disqualify them from receiving additional taxpayer money (borrowed from the Chinese, of course). Eternal life, you see.

It is beyond disgraceful that so many elected officials and unelected bureaucrats continue to waste so much of our money, all the while demanding we be taxed more because they can’t “afford” to cut a dime and some of us allegedly aren’t contributing our “fair share.”

We are past not being able to afford our government and it’s long past time to start cutting them off, much as a parent might stop sending money to a spendthrift college student who wastes it on partying and high-living.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is tmseditors@tribune.com.

Comments

Flap Doodle 2 years, 6 months ago

Diverting over $700 million to a company connected to Nancy Pelosi's BIL is also going to be very costly to the USA.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 6 months ago

There is waste everywhere even in private industry. Government is not alone. Private industry is not the epitome of efficiency or honesty.

Take look at the private industry war profiteers and all the of waste and fraud committed against Medicare by the white collar private industry.

And this: How much is the sick U.S. health care system costing you?

By Joel A. Harrison

Paying through the Taxman The U.S. health insurance system is typically characterized as a largely private-sector system, so it may come as a surprise that more than 60% of the $2 trillion annual U.S. health care bill is paid through taxes, according to a 2002 analysis published in Health Affairs by Harvard Medical School associate professors Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein.

Tax dollars pay for Medicare and Medicaid, for the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service. Tax dollars pay for health coverage for federal, state, and municipal government employees and their families, as well as for many employees of private companies working on government contracts.

Less visible but no less important, the tax deduction for employer-paid health insurance, along with other health care-related tax deductions, also represents a form of government spending on health care. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2008/0508harrison.html

And this:

Senate Panel Hears of A Raw Deal Consumers Get From Health Insurers

By David S. Hilzenrath Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, June 25, 2009

Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee.

More on this story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/24/AR2009062401636.html

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camper 2 years, 6 months ago

I saw an interesting movie called "Iraq for Sale". Stunning how much money the Pentagon was overbilled. I could not believe the 8 figure salaries payed to the CEO's of these companies. I think I can remeber President Bush being very ticked off when he heard about it and said that if we were overbilled, they would pay us back. I still have not heard if this ever happened. This was a mixed case of private contractor corruption and Government with seemingly deep pockets. $100 for them to do a load of laundery for a soldier.....this movie will infuriate you, and wake you up to what went on. The profiteering of war is sickening.

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weeslicket 2 years, 6 months ago

anywhoos: cal thomas's lead states: "There isn’t much about dysfunctional government that shocks me anymore, but this story did."

don't you just love it when an editorialist's lead sentence contradicts the entire premise of the following article? mr. thomas: i hereby award you the george will awardium of editorialist obfuscationist awardiestism awardy. the lord god in heaven knows you've earned it.

  • assuming that cal thomas and george will are the actual writers. can't tell from today's online byline.
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weeslicket 2 years, 6 months ago

funny how the ljworld byline doesn't list an author (editorialist) hmmmmm....

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Richard Payton 2 years, 6 months ago

The groundwater wouldn't be touched by the pipeline. That pipeline goes many miles below the groundwater.

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rockchalk1977 2 years, 6 months ago

Another example of "dysfunctional government" is the the Canadian Keystone KL Pipeline extension project. The proposed pipeline would bring crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The project is estimated to create more than 138,000 jobs and invest over $20 billion in the U.S. economy. However, those benefits have to be weighed against such critical factors as “the impact on beetles”. The report concludes that there is no significant environmental impact because of the project, but tell that to the beetles. Since they have no legal standing, the government has come to their defense. The EPA is doing everything and then some to block the project. Keep whining about jobs Obama!

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 6 months ago

but people in government will run Obamacare so cheaply that we'll all have money left over to profligately spend . Our taxes to those people will probably drop tremendously.

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voevoda 2 years, 6 months ago

The columnist is wrong when he compares government to "a spendthrift college student who wastes [money] on partying and high-living; he didn't give a single example that could properly be understood that way. What would be a reasonable simile? The student gave some of the money his parents intended for his own room and board to charities, and a few of the charities turned out to be scams. The student invested a little of his future tuition money in stocks, not always with proper investigation beforehand, and one of the companies went bankrupt. The student arranged for maintenance for the condo his parents bought for him to live in while in college, and he paid the maintenance company for more hours than they actually worked. When a proper comparison is made, it doesn't look like the "college student" is doing so much that is improper. Could he live more economically? Yes, of course. But there's no evidence of gross profligacy.

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jafs 2 years, 6 months ago

Such a mixture of different things, some good and some not-so-good.

Waste is absurd at the government level, and should be eliminated (or greatly reduced, if we can't eliminate it) - I imagine nobody would defend massive amounts of money paid to dead people.

Then he transitions to the post office, which is apparently actually required to run as a private business, but uses it as an example of problematic government spending.

And, then, he moves to alternative energy funding, and because there was apparently a problematic solar energy firm (I'll wait for the details of the investigation to form my conclusion about it), he proposes that we cut funding for that entire purpose, and hold disaster relief hostage to that.

This is the problem these days for me - I oppose (with everybody else I know) waste like the first example, but support the idea of alternative energy funding. Unless we start cutting government funding to every place that there's every found to be a problematic company, why start there?

If the PO is in fact functioning as a private entity, then it's a bad example of government as well.

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