Big government gets bigger
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reviewed 700 projects and found $1.1 trillion in spending from 2002 to 2008 that was plagued by “significant waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.”
Domestic spending also rose in almost every category as the White House, bargaining to get what it wanted for defense and national security, accommodated what even its supporters see as wasteful domestic spending in Congress.
“Basically, we have had in the past eight years an unending growth in government and ever higher increases in the level of spending,” said Phil Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas and chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1995 to 2000.
A political price
Mr. Bush has paid a heavy political price for his most costly domestic programs.
A series of large White House-backed spending projects — the 2002 Farm Bill, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D — alienated the conservative brain trust and power base. And as grievous pet projects — symbolized by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens’ $320 million “Bridge to Nowhere” — went unchecked by the president, the grass roots became infuriated.
The Bush White House “didn’t focus on spending,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “They didn’t make it a priority. And this predates September 11. It just wasn’t on the list of things they were going to do.”
Government has also been growing in less noticeable ways.
The increasing outsourcing of government functions to private contractors that began in the 1990s under President Clinton’s “reinventing government” initiative was continued by Mr. Bush. It was here, after the Sept. 11 attacks, that a new vista of government waste opened wide.
Contractors have squandered billions of taxpayer dollars, gaining entry into federal coffers with promises to detect terrorists, build or supply better war machinery and weapons, or protect airports, according to numerous reports by agency inspectors general.
In the high-tech age of complex computer networks and data-mining systems, the government has been unable to keep the contractors accountable, those same reports show. The federal bureaucracy is too slow and too unsophisticated to even know, often, what exactly it has asked a contractor to do.
For example, the Transportation Security Administration in 2002 contracted for a high-speed national computer network but had no idea how it would work, so it was pegged as a $1 billion expenditure. A few years later, the price had grown as high as $5 billion.
To round out the circle, the government has hamstrung its own ability to keep track of the spending by starving its watchdogs - the inspectors general - of resources and personnel.
The Bush administration sends mixed messages about its grasp of the contracting problem.
Jim Nussle, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), calls complaints about contracting oversight “a very appropriate criticism.”