- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Anyone who seriously believes that taxpayer money is spent more wisely than the treasure from King Solomon's mines would be wise to consult Sen. Fred Thompson's report on the riddle of the sphinx-esque management problems facing the federal government and the ridiculous excesses it causes.
Mr. Thompson used just a few examples from the General Accounting Office (GAO) and various department inspector generals (IGs) to estimate that fraud, waste and mismanagement cost taxpayers at least $220 billion each year. No one actually knows precisely, since, as he pointed out, "the federal government makes no effort to keep track of it." His report outlines four moldering areas of federal mishap including workforce problems, financial mismanagement, information technology mismanagement, and overlap and duplication and the gory details are enough to confirm what many already suspected.
Mr. Thompson claims "the civil service system … is itself broken," adducing, among others, the IRS. The hapless souls who called the IRS' toll-free answer line this year stood sub-Vegas odds of getting through to someone who would give them a correct answer. At least that's what happened to the IG auditors doing random tests of the line. They were unable to get through to the IRS via the agency's toll-free number more than one-third of the time, and when they did, the IRS missed the questions almost half the time questions taken from the IRS' own list of frequently asked questions. Meanwhile, it was 11 months before anyone at the Department of Energy noticed that one of its employees hadn't returned four secret documents probably because the employee was dead.
"The federal government as a whole and some of its largest agencies can't pass a basic financial audit," according to Mr. Thompson, whose report pointed out that bureaucrats make overpayments of more than $20 billion each year, the IRS "does not know how much it actually collects in Social Security and Medicare."
The report calls attention to the fact that, "computer security weaknesses pervade federal programs," that the State Department depends on a World War II-era cable system for much of its diplomatic communication, that the U.S. Border Patrol arrested and released railway killer Rafael Resendez-Ramirez seven different times thanks to computer-related communications problems, and that the Federal Aviation Administration's $12 billion attempt to upgrade air traffic control systems begun in 1986 has ballooned to an estimated $45 billion and is not expected to be finished until 2005.
Perhaps by that time, the government will have shredded a few of its duplication and overlap problems. Mr. Thompson, ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee, brings to notice that, "In virtually all things that the government touches, multiple programs operated by multiple agencies try to solve the same problems." Bureaucrats are operating more than 90 programs in 11 agencies and 20 offices to help with early childhood, and they are directing nearly 100 different programs aimed at delinquent youths.
Astonishingly, this is simply the tip of the pyramid, and getting to the bottom of it, not to mention fixing it, will require monumental, but all too necessary, effort.

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