Torrents of bad news on government spending constantly spout forth from Washington. For example, the feds recently admitted they’d made $247 billion in improper payments last year – with your tax dollars. Since 2004, it brings the tally to $3 trillion worth of mistakes.
That staggering incompetence is roughly equivalent to the GDP of the entire United Kingdom, and federal workers somehow managed to lose it between the figurative couch cushions.
And the numbers only get worse. Large programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance To Needy Families (TANF) didn’t even report. Bureaucrats decided not to report it, knowing those programs would be “risk susceptible.” No harm, no foul, they said.
Nearly every federal program has been either legally gamed or illegally looted over the last three years.
For example, yet another report emerged estimating at least $200 billion lost to fraudulent Covid-related loans to small businesses. That admission comes from the Small Business Administration’s own Inspector General.
Washington is terrible at doling out your money efficiently. They know it, and they keep asking for more.
So, when there’s a glimmer good news contra this mess, it’s worth taking a pause to acknowledge it, celebrate it, and consider how we might compound it.
Washington’s own internal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported in June that $46.8 billion of duplicative spending was found and eliminated. Since 2010, $600 billion has been cut from the taxpayer tab.
We know this thanks to the late Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Back in 2010, Congress and President Obama were once again engaged in tense negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Coburn demanded the deal require the GAO to routinely search for duplicative programs across departments and tease out inefficiencies. That information is regularly shared with Congress, to help them make better-informed decisions with our tax dollars.
Coburn himself argued, “turning this ready-made list of cuts into savings is one of the best ways Congress can regain the trust and confidence of the American people.” With approval of Congress at a meager 20 percent, it would serve every member to keep that in mind. “No American — regardless of party or ideology — wants to see their tax dollars fund unnecessary duplication and bloat,” said Coburn, who became known as the “Dr. No” of the Senate for his opposition to overspending.
The evidence shows Democrats understand this too.
In 2015, after five years’ worth of these congressionally mandated GAO reports on duplication, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing in which both parties probed for inefficiencies and overlapping missions within the DHS – an enormous department cobbled together after the September 11 attacks.
Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) opened the hearing by affirming that these GAO reports show “we need sustained leadership and oversight in both the Executive Branch and Congress to decide where there is unnecessary duplication…or where we need better coordination among government programs with similar missions.”
Of Coburn, the Delaware senator said, “Whenever we talk about duplication, I think about Tom Coburn, and I know his spirit is here with us today…Oftentimes we tack on amendments to a piece of legislation and take votes on them, and they are messaging votes. This was far more than that. This was an amendment passed on a debt ceiling increase in 2010 that has had a real impact, provided us excellent information, and provided real savings…So, again, this hearing really is a tribute to Senator Tom Coburn.”
Carper was stating the obvious: the Coburn Rule isn’t political, it’s just conscientious, good governance. We need more of it from our leaders, and more consistently.
This $600 billion in savings is a clear, resounding victory for American taxpayers – but it’s a fraction of the losses. Plenty of work remains for every government leader. The spirit of the Coburn Rule must be a consistent touchstone guiding their decisions.
Adam Andrzejewski is founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, the nation’s largest private database of public spending. The late Senator Coburn is an honorary chairman of the nonprofit.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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