Guy W. Farmer: $16 muffins? That's hard to swallow

Some of my fellow Democrats accuse me of sounding like a Tea Party activist when I criticize the federal government for fraud, waste and abuse, and for encroaching on the states' rights guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Just to refresh your memories, the Tenth Amendment reads as follows: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution ... are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people."

That's us, folks. So I'm always surprised by those who express blind faith in the ability of the federal government to solve all of our problems. Government is good and private enterprise is bad. That's what they seem to be saying.

Well, let's take a look at how that same wonderful government is spending our hard-earned tax dollars (I'm referring to those of us who pay federal income taxes; nearly 50 percent don't).

The U.S. Justice Department's inspector general issued an audit this week blasting the federal government for paying $16 per muffin for attendees at a 2009 agency training seminar. Though conference host Hilton Worldwide disputed that figure, the IG's office stands by the conclusion that the spending appeared "extravagant and potentially wasteful."

A recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that overlapping federal programs - along with waste, fraud and abuse - are costing taxpayers billions (with a "b") of dollars.

According to the GAO, the U.S. government has 15 different agencies overseeing food safety laws, more than 20 different programs to help the homeless, 80 programs for economic development, 80 more to help disadvantaged people with transportation, 82 programs to improve teacher quality, 47 job training and employment programs (44 of which overlap), and 56 programs to help people understand finances.

The report revealed that there were 18 programs that spent a combined $62.5 billion in 2008 on food and nutrition assistance, and identified 100 different Transportation Department programs to fund highway and railroad construction projects, and safety programs. On and on it goes; you get the idea.

"This report confirms what most Americans assume about their government," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). "We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we're doing. This report also shows that we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services."

Congress should do exactly that in its cost-cutting efforts to balance the bloated federal budget.

The GAO found many more examples of inefficient and/or overlapping programs in the sprawling Defense Department, and charged that DoD has "no tracking mechanism" for an estimated $77 billion that has been spent on communications and computer technologies since 2005. Even worse, the bipartisan Wartime Contracting Commission reported that the U.S. has lost billions of dollars to waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The little-known commission, created by Congress in 2008, estimated that the Pentagon has lost track of as much as $60 billion in those two war-torn countries because of lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption. The Commission recommended appointing an inspector general to monitor war zone contracting and operations, and better planning and coordination among federal agencies. All of this makes perfect sense, but will Congress act to correct the problem? Don't hold your breath.

• Full disclosure: Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, worked for the federal government as a diplomat for nearly 30 years.


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