NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

To Deal With Waste, Fraud and Abuse, Cut Spending

August 28, 2013

When waste, fraud and abuse in government are exposed, the first response is often that we need more oversight. For instance, when it came to light that millions in farm subsidies were paid to dead farmers, many in Washington, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), blamed the problem on poor oversight, says Veronique De Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center.

But too often, the problem with these waste-ridden programs isn't that they lack a watchful steward; the problem is that they exist in the first place. Lawmakers in Congress have been captured by private interests and will continue to support programs even in the face of clear evidence that they shouldn't. The latest Republican vote on the farm bill is a good example.

  • The GAO recently found that nearly $37 million was disbursed to deceased recipients, and that the largest portion came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency that issued $22 million in subsidies for people who have been deceased for one to two years.
  • None of this was fixed, yet the portion of the farm bill that included these programs passed with flying colors.
  • Maybe more importantly, according to the GAO report, the solution to this fiasco is more and better oversight.

Regrettably, this problem is neither new nor limited to farm subsidies. It also is not the result of inadequate information or oversight. Countless reports by the GAO, government watchdog groups, inspectors' general, and even members of Congress every year identify myriad instances of overpayment, duplicity and other waste.

  • Nothing much ever comes out of such oversight.
  • As U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro has noted, "Just 12 percent of more than 300 recommendations issued by GAO since 2011 to eliminate, combine or modify duplicative programs have been fully carried out."
  • One reason that oversight and reform are seldom truly improved is that -- even in the face of reform-minded reports, data-driven reviews, and the monitoring of goals and priorities -- appropriators are not bound to make policy changes.
  • In essence, the actions of legislators are less influenced by GAO reports or testimonies (oversight) than the rewards of entertaining competing special-interest groups and lobbyists.

Source: Veronique De Rugy, "To Deal With Waste, Fraud and Abuse, Cut Spending," Washington Examiner, August 12, 2013.


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