Senator Releases ‘Federal Fumbles’ Waste Report

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford’s annual report on government inefficiency hammers the government for funding “Doggie Hamlet,” social security for chimpanzees, and wasteful agricultural programs.

In Lankford’s latest edition of “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball,” the senator praises a year’s worth of work repealing regulations under President Donald Trump, but also bemoans the increasing deficit and continued lack of oversight in government.

“I wish there were only 100 ways the government dropped the ball,” Lankford said in a press conference Monday. “There are more than 100, but we gave an illustration of 100 of these.”

The 86-page report divides the examples federal mistakes into several categories, including wasteful spending, lack of oversight, the need for structural changes, and wasted effort.

The examples of government waste and lack of oversight range from the humorous, like the National Endowment for the Arts’ $30,000 grant for an outdoor dance with sheep and dogs called “Doggie Hamlet,” to the more egregious, like the decade-long refurbishment of the Air Operations Center which swallowed nearly double the estimated cost of $374 million “due to its own poor planning and contractor mistakes.” (RELATED: NYT Battles Free Beacon Over Whether Hippies Running Around In Fields With Sheep Is Art)

“While we made tremendous progress in alleviating the regulatory burden on the American economy, we have work to do in reforming how the federal government utilizes your tax dollars,” Lankford’s report reads.

Lankford summarizes the issue with the federal sending and deficit, a timely reminder as Congress must decide on tax reform and the budget in the final legislative days of the year.

In FY16, the federal government collected $3.267 trillion in taxes.6 That includes income taxes, corporate taxes, Social Security, and unemployment. Unfortunately, it spent $3.852 trillion, a deficit of $584 billion.7 Since FY09, the federal government spent $7.2 trillion more than it has taken in.8 Congress has yet to agree on how to stop overspending, which is why the federal government is almost $20 trillion in debt today.

Lankford reserved a special place in the report for grants, which he says receive far less oversight than contracts and need to be better managed.

“We have to fix the grant process,” Lankford said. While inspectors and Congress attend the checks made out to contractors, “that same attention hasn’t been paid to the grant process,” Lankford added. “So because of that it’s the easiest ways to be able to actually get dollars out of the door. More and more agencies are spending more and more on grants.”

The structural and oversight problems Lankford mentions include the fact that the leaders of federal agencies sometimes do not even know what their department does.

“We should be able to see from every single agency what they do,” Lankford said. “Right now the new cabinet officials cannot tell you everything that agency does. There is no master list.”

Lankford also bemoaned the Senate’s inability to address these problems, which conservatives have raised for years, due to the chamber’s rules. “If we can’t debate these issues, we can’t solve these issues,” Lankford said.

To save valuable congressional work time, Lankford would like to see the Senate return to time limits on nominations. The Senate already operated under time limits for considering presidential nominations for one year in 2013, then abandoned them. The rules allowed “two hours for district court nominees and eight hours for all other nominees except cabinet members and appellate judges, whose nominations could be debated for 30 hours,” according to the report.

The confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s nominees has been historically slow, partly due to the administration not filing paperwork, and partly due to the difficulty of scheduling hearings that could take days. “At this pace, the Senate will take 11 years to confirm all of the President’s nominees,” Lankford said.

Some of the issues in Lankford’s report, which he says is his to-do list for the coming year, address agriculture issues that will likely come up as Congress updates the agriculture authorization act, known as the Farm Bill, next year. Those issues include the federal grazing program, which “spent at least $91.6 million to administer the federal grazing program but only collected $14.5 million in grazing fees—leaving taxpayers with a $70.6 million bill.”

Lankford also took special interest in the Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, created in 2014, which assists in market research and grant programs for producers of “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture),” basically meaning anything grown in the ground for food, medicine, or aesthetics. The entire program is a duplication of other programs, including the “National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund outside research on agriculture and agriculture-related needs.”

Unlike previous reports, Lankford’s latest Federal Fumbles list also includes several pages of successes, including six “touchdowns” of things included in previous reports that have now been solved.

Another two pages of the report are devoted to issues where the government has made forward progress, according to Lankford, like the postponement of a proposed USDA rule that would have required all stores stores sell “items like tofu, shrimp, and goat’s milk if they want to accept [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits,” also known as food stamps.

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