A Year in Review: $73B of fiscal waste identified for the taxpayer

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This week marks the first anniversary of the Golden Hammer appearing in The Washington Times.

In all but one of the past 52 Friday newspapers, there has been a new example of the government’s waste, fraud and abuse of money. The exception was Christmas, when we cataloged some of the government’s holiday-related spending instead.

We thought we’d take a step back and see what that’s meant for the taxpayer. After all, the Golden Hammer has been awarded to more than two dozen federal agencies, offices, departments and organizations.

The grand total of fiscal waste identified: a whopping $73 billion. To be exact, $73,314,247,000.

The largest area at risk — and the area that made up more than half of the total worth of all the Golden Hammers — remains Medicare and Medicaid. So-called “entitlement spending” — health care and pensions — takes up half of the U.S. budget each year.

And one of the largest single locations for potential waste is Afghanistan, where the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion helping to rebuild the country. Unfortunately, a lot has been lost to corruption, miscommunication or a simple misjudgment of what the Afghan people need.

The importance of fiscal oversight was illustrated Wednesday, when it came to light that the White House had planned to give its bowling alley some green-friendly repairs — not necessarily an urgent need in an era of budget belt-tightening.

But after The Washington Times and other news outlets reported the story, the decision was suddenly reversed, and it looks like the money won’t be spent after all.

It’s another reason to always keep a close eye on how your tax dollars are being spent. Here’s some government waste over the past year, from A to Z.

Afghanistan Import Fees: Despite U.S. reconstruction efforts, the Afghan leadership put in a series of levies, customs, fees and fines on everything coming into the nation, skimming $1 billion from aid designed to help the people.

Boats: The Pentagon paid $3 million* for eight boats to help Afghanistan patrol its rivers. But delivery was abruptly canceled without notifying the Afghans, and the boats now sit unused in a warehouse.

Currency Advertisements: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing paid a company $80 million for public outreach to advertise changes to dollar bills and coins. But the investigators found that officials never really paid attention to how or on what the company spent the money.

Duplication: Redundancy remains a big problem in the government. Research on autism, for example, may be wasting $1.4 billion because different departments aren’t coordinating their efforts and are investigating the same things, watchdogs said.

End-of-Year Spending: Come the end of the fiscal year in September, agencies often go on a “use-it-or-lose-it” spending spree to burn through the rest of their budgets. The Defense Department, for example, spent thousands of dollars on coffee mugs, sports equipment and musical instruments.

Flood Insurance: Following Katrina and a string of other hurricanes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency implemented new insurance programs to protect people from flooding. But rather than have homeowners pay part of the cost, the program has become saddled with $24 billion in debt.

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