Continued from page 2

Agency by agency, similar problems were found.

In Kentucky, the Transportation Department inspector general estimated that $24 million in stimulus money in 2009 alone was given to companies that were later debarred from future government work because of criminal behavior including “bribery, conspiracy and theft from a government agency.” 

At the Energy Department’s Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina, taxpayers incurred $7 million of unnecessary expense by paying severance to temporary workers hired under the stimulus, when all that was needed was 60-day layoff notices, the inspector general found

In another unnecessary expense, the Labor Department’s inspector general found the department’s Job Corps entered into an $82 million lease agreement with the YWCA to build a new facility in Los Angeles, when the government could have saved $31 million by constructing the facility itself.

Some stimulus programs were so riddled with problems that investigators couldn’t determine the exact amount of waste. Take, for instance, the Veterans Affairs Department, which awarded $50 million to the National Cemetery Administration to repair monuments and memorials. The IG found in September 2011 that employees there had little documentation to justify expenditures and didn’t have any criteria for judging success or failure.

“There was no record as to why the projects selected were the right ones to choose for funding or would best fulfill ARRA objectives of helping stimulate the U.S. economy,” the inspector general declared, flagging all $50 million as problematic.

Even small misspending adds up when 29 federal agencies are involved. The Washington Guardian found millions of dollars in flagged spending in amounts under $250,000, the smallest being $148 identified by the Agriculture Department IG for an unnecessary penalty for filing late construction paperwork.

Likewise, contractors for a geothermal technologies program billed the government $110,000 for prohibited alcohol, entertainment and excessive travel expenses, including seat upgrades, the Energy IG found.  And when a stimulus recipient overbilled Energy by $20,000 because of a typo, the government still hadn’t gotten its money back four months after its discovery, investigators said.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be surprised by the misspending because the administration believed “the faster, the better” when it came to using stimulus funds to stop an economic downturn, said Michael Munger, political science and economics professor at Duke University. 

“We’d gotten to such a position that the symbolism of spending that money helped stop the panic,” he said.  The thought process was akin to “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong,” he said, paraphrasing a country song.