President Trump’s war on federal waste
By Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Adam Andrzejewski
Recently, President Donald Trump declared war on federal waste. The president pledged to cut spending and asked his agency heads to cut five percent of their budgets. It’s a great first step and an achievable goal.
Under the previous two administrations, the federal debt has tripled. The last Bush administration began with a $5.7 billion national debt and ended with $10.7 trillion. By the end of the Obama Administration, the debt had reached $19.5 trillion. Today, our national debt exceeds $21.5 trillion.
Economists differ on how much of a threat the debt poses to our economy. We share the view of President Obama’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen who said the debt is a our greatest national security threat. However, everyone can agree that misallocating tax dollars for activities that produce no benefit keeps tax rates artificially high and deprives investors and innovators of scarce capital.
Our recent investigations and oversight reports show that the president has a target-rich environment. Here is a small sample of our findings:
The federal government doled out more than $600 billion in grants last year; many produced little value for taxpayers. A $1.4 million grant funded sex-education for California prostitutes, another one studied “where it hurts the most to be stung by a bee.” And a $1 million grant sought to prepare religions for the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
Lastly, NASA spent $2.5 million to produce “Space Racers,” an animated children’s cartoon. The American taxpayer paid for a $9.2 million grant to the airport on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Even America’s most elite universities and successful corporations received plenty of taxpayer subsidies. In a six-year period, the eight schools of the Ivy League received $22 billion in federal grants — despite having $120 billion amassed in their endowments.
Over the last three years, Fortune 100 companies received $3.2 billion in grants. Boeing can’t argue it needed the $774 million in federal grants while reporting nearly $100 billion in annual revenue.
Then there’s the highly compensated bureaucracy. At 78 large federal agencies, the average employee made a six-figure salary. The federal government disclosed 2 million employees costing taxpayers $1.1 million per minute, $65.6 million per hour and more than half of a billion dollars per day. More than 1 million federal employees received a performance bonus last year costing taxpayers $1.5 billion.
Cash compensation is only part of the true taxpayer cost. After just three years, a federal civil servant can receive 43 days of paid time off — that’s 10 holidays, 13 sick days and 20 vacation days. We estimate this benefit package costs $22.6 billion annually because more full-time employees are “needed” to cover for those on vacation. Are we now France?
In the 1980s President Reagan’s Grace Commission worked like bloodhounds to root out waste, fraud, corruption and taxpayer abuse. They determined that one-third of all federal spending was waste, duplication, or ineffective, but Congress didn’t do enough to curb the excesses.
Does anyone think the federal government is more efficient today?
Eliminating waste takes an extraordinary force of will. Targeting agencies demonstrates the president’s willingness to lead by example. Congress should applaud his efforts and work with him.
The ideal member of Congress isn’t one who sends money back to states and districts; it’s one who prevents money from leaving in the first place.