| February 3, 2011

Big government’s wastefulness is appalling

The reason taxpayers must support “limited government” is because the larger the government, the more inefficient and unaccountable it becomes. Take the example of a recent news report from WUSA Channel 9 in Washington D.C. Andrea McCarren reported that for several months her news crew kept track of the lights left on in a dozen buildings in our nation’s capital, including the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and Energy, and found that the government agencies for the most part were questionable stewards of taxpayers’ monies.

McCarren says, “Using the Freedom of Information Act, we requested six months of utility bills for the headquarters buildings of more than a dozen agencies.” The cost to taxpayers for electricity to operate the buildings is staggering. “The low end is about $200,000 a month,” McCarren reports, “the high end more than a million. One month’s electricity bill at the Department of Labor topped a million dollars. That bill was a bill paid in July of last year. The month before, the department paid a bill of nearly $700,000. And utility costs of that magnitude are not unusual.” Yet despite these costs she found office after office, floor after floor of lights left on well after closing.

Other agency bills are just as shocking. The Department of Health and Human Services paid an electric bill last August of $799,000 for a month of service while the Department of Commerce paid an electric bill last June of $794,000. Plus there were late charges for failure to pay utility bills on time (one agency paid nearly $800). Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, refers to such late charges as “mismanagement.” He adds, “Turning off the lights is about the simplest way for government to save money.” Meanwhile, according to McCarren, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education keep entire floors illuminated and it’s not because they are burning the midnight oil. It’s waste, pure and simple.

David Walker of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog agency, defines waste as “the government’s failure to give taxpayers the most for their money.” But what motivations do government employees have to prevent such waste?

In private enterprise, if the bill indicates that lights have been left on, or the heater too high, or air conditioner too low, a manager takes the necessary steps to correct the behavior. However, when a government agency receives such statements, they simply process them for payment. The bill seems too impersonal for anyone to get too excited about. As government grows larger, more waste occurs. Many government workers come to believe that the money they are spending belongs to the bureaucracy rather than the taxpayers—thus the cavalier attitude toward dollars and waste.

One citizen interviewed by McCarren said he wasn’t surprised by the findings in her report. “I used to work for the federal government,” he stated. “I know they waste tax dollars. They do it every day.” And that is why limited government is a necessity.

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