- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

While President Obama has busied himself expanding federal spending at a record pace, government waste has managed to grow even faster. Apparently the Democrats are so busy handing out cash that they don’t even bother paying attention to who’s getting the boodle and why.

Last month, the federal government admitted that at least 5 percent of all federal spending - about $98 billion worth - was improperly allocated. The true total is surely higher because bureaucrats aren’t any better at counting money than doling it out. But no matter the sum, the Obama administration’s ineffectual response to the tens of billions of ill-gotten gains was a sternly worded executive order. Next thing you know, Mr. Obama will threaten to send those who rob the taxpayer to bed without supper.

White House assurances that a little policy tinkering will improve government comes as Democrats ramp up for the final push to try to pass government health care legislation. One of their canards is that their bloated plans actually will magically reduce spending somehow. Much of the purported future savings in competing House and Senate plans supposedly would be culled from Medicare, one of the two entitlements where the majority of waste was found. Given government’s irresponsible history of handling money, it’s a sick joke to claim that vastly expanding the federal role in health care will purge any waste at all.

Mr. Obama has directed each federal agency to assign a political appointee to oversee efforts to find and reduce fraud, overpayment and other improper spending as well as to create regular reports on the matter.

This sounds peachy, but the answer to bureaucratic problems is not more bureaucracy. There is already existing infrastructure in every agency to deal with financial controls. Revealing that Mr. Obama’s executive order is mere window dressing, the new appointees actually are directed to work with inspectors general and existing entities already tasked with weeding out such problems.

The president has directed federal agencies to create plans and targets for reversing fraud and waste, something they already should be doing as stewards of taxpayer dollars. One hitch is that they are given two long years to meet the targets.

It’s chilling where this administration bestows patience. American soldiers are expected to fix Afghanistan in 18 months, but Mr. Obama’s Illinois actuaries aren’t expected to clean up the federal balance sheets for two years.

And boy, the penalty for failure is bloodcurdling. If Mr. Obama’s army of ninja accountants fails, all the oversight appointee is required to do is forward additional remediation plans to the White House Office of Management and Budget. No, not the dreaded additional remediation plans! Surely that must violate one of the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Obama also has directed the Office of Management and Budget to report agency waste and fraud findings on their Web site. In theory, such transparency would be a good move, but the startling incompetence of the Obama White House in similar efforts provides scant hope for positive change.

Administration transparency plans for stimulus spending proved to be more punch line than punch. The Recovery.org Web site, which is supposed to track the impact of stimulus spending, has reported nonexistent congressional districts in all 50 states receiving over $6.4 billion in stimulus funds. This fortune was misreported as having created thousands of jobs in places that don’t exist for people no one can find.

When the Nov. 17 announcement was made about the misspent $98 billion, OMB Director Peter Orszag said the $26 billion increase in misallocated funds in 2009 should have been expected because of the administration’s massive expansion of federal deficit spending via the $787 billion stimulus package.

Minimizing the intolerable nature of almost $100 billion in admitted waste runs counter to the concept of greater government accountability to the taxpayer that Mr. Obama and his team promised before they took office. Even if Mr. Orzag’s jesuitical redirection was plausible, fraud during this free-spending administration should have increased by roughly the same percentage that spending increased. But this was not so. During the last fiscal year, overall federal spending jumped by 18 percent over 2008 while the identified waste spiked by a much larger 40 percent.

If Obama administration officials were serious about cutting government waste and reforming the nation’s health care system, they would need to do more than promise improvements and issue toothless mandates. We’re not holding our breath.