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.
GSA Phones: The General Services Administration is supposed to be in charge of things that help other federal agencies. But they lagged in an attempt to switch the government over to a new phone system, wasting $395 million in part because they kept paying for parts for the old system.
Humvee: The Army’s marquee transportation cost $26 million too much to repair because military officials didn’t shop around or compare prices.
Incinerators: The Army paid $5 million for incinerators to burn garbage at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. Yet they paid the contractor in full despite nearly three years of delays. And with the drawdown in U.S. troops, the incinerators have been dismantled without ever being used.
Job Corps Travel Cards: The Department of Labor’s Job Corps provides vocational training to young people. But travel cards, meant to ease the burden of ticket and baggage fees, were instead used to pay for cellphone bills and trips to the hairdressers.
Katrina Recovery: A federal program to help hurricane-ravaged organizations relocate might be unintentionally slowing down recovery instead, because the groups are waiting years until they can keep all the money from property sales instead of having to share with the government.
Liquor: Last year the government spent $1.3 million on liquor purchases, more than quadruple the amount spent in 2005.
Mess Hall: The Pentagon paid $4 million to construct a base for the Afghan security forces. But they forgot to build it with a mess hall or any kind of dining facility, causing the Afghans to abandon it rather than have to truck in food.
Navajo Jobs: The Labor Department pitched in $13 million to help fund job training on Navajo reservations, but the money sat unused in a bank account while thousands of applicants were hoping for help finding a job.
Outhouse: One single outhouse at a national park in Alaska — estimated price tag $10,000 — wound up costing the government nearly ten times that amount, possibly because they may have driven the unit by truck all the way from Oregon.
Pakistan Helicopters: When the Pentagon agreed to overhaul five Pakistan-made helicopters for use in Afghanistan, they wound up buying $2.6 million in parts they already had and $4.5 million in parts they didn’t use.
Quarters for Contractors: An Energy Department program to bring special technical talent to the Washington area ran up a $37 million expense tab because officials didn’t pay attention to how much they spent on the contractors’ relocation and housing costs.
Rocket Stand: When NASA changed its plans for space exploration, it no longer needed a 300-foot stand to test rocket engines. But it went ahead and completed construction on the $350 million tower — and then immediately mothballed it.
Savannah River Site: Energy Department projects have a history of running over budget. But construction of a new nuclear power plant at the agency’s South Carolina site went a staggering $3 billion over budget because officials didn’t scrutinize blueprints closely enough.
TSA Pay Raises: Employees at the Transportation Security Administration gave themselves $17.5 million in pay raises over five years by classifying themselves as “criminal investigators” despite the fact they didn’t do any additional work.
Upgrade Tax Breaks: Businesses that make improvements like installing handicap ramps can get a tax break from the IRS. But oversight is so lax that many individuals who shouldn’t have qualified were able to apply — and got more than $1 billion in tax credits for 2011.
Vials of Medicine: Medicare unwittingly paid $24 million for half-empty vials of breast cancer medicine. Despite the fact that a single vial could be used for multiple treatments, officials paid the full price for each use.
Wristwatches: The Pentagon’s desire for 1,600 wristwatches went through a limited competition, but officials knew exactly who they wanted the manufacturer to be: Casio. Such zeroing in on specific brands and items has concerned some watchdogs, who are worried money-saving competition is falling by the wayside.
X-Ray Machines: The Bureau of Prisons spent $4 million on the machines in an attempt to cut down on contraband. But most were installed within sight of the convicts, letting the prisoners easily study how to circumvent the security.
Yearly Executive Training: In the hopes that better managers would improve the federal workforce, the government spent $57 million over four years, sending top-level executives to annual leadership-training courses at places like an inn resort in Virginia or the ski slopes in Colorado.
Zzzzz: Poor oversight by Medicare officials allowed doctors to bill for sleep and insomnia studies that never took place. The government paid out $17 million for medical forms that were often fudged to increase revenue.
*The original posted article incorrectly gave this figure as $3 billion.