EDITORIAL: Close enough for government work

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Part of President Obama’s health care bill depends on the government telling doctors and hospitals what are purportedly the most efficient medical procedures they should use. Americans are supposed to trust Mr. Obama’s bureaucrats over their own doctors. Meanwhile, a new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that the Obama administration has been an utter failure at identifying the efficiency of a wide range of products. As government encroaches on more aspects of American life, the federal bureaucracy is increasingly incompetent.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are charged with identifying how energy-efficient different products are. They claim that 98 percent of the products they test meet or exceed Energy Star requirements, which are government benchmarks used to regulate greater efficiency. Yet a sting by GAO investigators showed that the government agencies incorrectly identified as “efficient” 15 of 20 bogus products submitted by GAO for testing. No action was taken on two of the 20 products. Overall, the government made the correct decision on 11 percent of the test products.

As the Washington saying forewarns, the difference between 98 percent and 11 percent is close enough for government work.

Most disturbingly, the absurd products in question shouldn’t have been close calls. Take the so-called “room air cleaner.” The product was a space heater with a duster sticking out of the top and several fly strips attached. The picture submitted to the government of the bogus product is pretty hilarious - but the bureaucracy gave the contraption the federal stamp of approval.

Among the other ridiculous items the government certified as energy-efficient was a petroleum-powered timepiece that was described as a “generator-sized clock run on gasoline.” Such a machine obviously would be energy-inefficient. Moving the heavy beast alone would keep greens awake at night worrying about wasted energy, making the alarm on the clock superfluous.

News of these phony approvals has bureaucrats running for high ground. While defensively insisting that they take the tests “seriously,” the EPA and Energy Department immediately issued a statement defending their testing and telling the public it should not lose confidence in the government program to monitor efficiency ratings. Incorrigibly, the feds again pointed to their own discredited 98 percent accuracy rate and implausibly claimed the Energy Star program has so far saved Americans $17 billion on their electricity bills.

However much the EPA and Energy Department protest, government agencies will never be as careful as private companies in getting consumers what they want. Shareholders lose their own money if they deceive consumers. If a business had an accuracy rate that was 87 percent lower than what it claimed, few customers would line up to buy its products. Just consider how quickly people stopped buying Toyotas amid charges of dangerous brake failure and electrical problems in a small percentage of the millions of cars sold by the Japanese automaker whose main selling point is reliability.

Given Mr. Obama’s massive expansion of the federal leviathan, the defeatist quip “close enough for government work” could become the refrain for a new national anthem.

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