Lieberman's Chance to Eliminate the Triple Threat

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, has inherited from his Republican predecessor a true leadership role in eliminating billions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse identified in a recently released federal study.

On his last day as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, Tennessee Republican Senator Fred Thompson unveiled the results of a months-long analysis of the triple threat of waste, fraud and abuse in 17 federal agencies and departments.

The study, called "Government at the Brink - Urgent Federal Government Management Problems Facing the Bush Administration" is the result of months of hard work by the Inspectors General of all the federal agencies and the General Accounting Office. They uncovered $220 billion worth of waste, fraud and abuse. That is $220 billion in taxpayers' dollars that could be used to improve our public schools, or provide prescription drugs for senior citizens, or finance health insurance for the uninsured, or lower the national debt.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee staff lists the top ten most egregious examples of the federal bureaucracy run amok. These ten examples of bureaucratic mismanagement include:

  • "The Big Dig" - Boston's biggest embarrassment is a new highway and tunnel that has become the most expensive federal infrastructure project in American history. It is now a $13.6 billion project, a 525% increase from its original cost of $2.6 billion. And it is not yet completed!
  • The Department of the Interior cannot account for $3 billion it holds in trust for American Indians and the agencies that serve them. This is cited in the report as "fiscal and governmental irresponsibility in its purest form." I'd call it a rip-off of Native Americans.
  • The Department of Defense, in third place, has a problem different from waste, fraud and abuse. It simply cannot account for what it spends. It appears to be a defense against investigations of waste, fraud and abuse.
  • NASA's fiscal mismanagement is just as ridiculous. Remember when the Mars Polar Lander failed two years ago? It lost billions when it was revealed that the Lander was designed by two teams, one using English measurements (inches, feet, yards, etc) while the second team used metric measures.
  • Medicare. We have become so jaded by Medicare waste, fraud and abuse over the years that the $12 billion lost to improper, but easily identified, misspent funds in the fee-for service plan alone seems like small change. That $12 billion in faulty payments could cover a lot of prescription drugs for senior citizens on a fixed income.
  • The Department of Energy was cited not so much for misspent funds, but for a case where an employee was dead for 11 months before DOE even noticed that he still had four classified nuclear secret documents signed out. A good management team would have caught that one right away. These are nuclear secrets, after all.
  • The IRS has no idea what it collects in Social Security and Medicare taxes. And the GAO found that it has taken up to 12 years to record payments made by taxpayers.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs runs a hospital for vets that uses the same loading dock for food service carts as it does for biohazard waste containers. While neither waste, fraud no abuse is identified here, one has to ask: What were they thinking? This takes hospital food to a new low.
  • The federal student loan program is so mismanaged, according to the GAO and Inspectors General, that it has created a cottage industry for con artists who bilk the federal government by classifying handicraft classes for senior citizens as college credit courses.
  • Unemployment insurance fraud is so out of control that one Nevada man collected $230,500 in benefits by finding the Social Security numbers of deceased taxpayers.

We are now up to Page 5 of the "Government at the Brink" report and it is a two-volume project. We haven't even touched on food stamps for federal prisoners and computer hackers who can siphon off federal funds with a click of a mouse.

Sen. Fred Thompson has given his successor Sen. Joe Lieberman a great opportunity and a leg-up on the 2004 presidential campaign: a blue print to solve the triple threat of waste, fraud and abuse by simply hiring capable and properly trained money and people managers. That is unless President George W. Bush beats him to it and recoups the lost billions first.