WASHINGTON – Some U.S. military veterans are having their hospital food stored with hazardous waste, according to a new government report.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., the outgoing chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, on Tuesday released a report on government mismanagement that placed the veterans’ food crisis in the top 10 of the most egregious examples of the federal bureaucratic mismanagement.
"For some time now the government has been mismanaged to an extent that the average American would be shocked," declared Thompson in a Capitol Hill press conference.
Most of the cases of mismanagement, detailed in "Government at the Brink: Urgent Government Management Problems Facing the Bush Administration," don’t threaten Americans' health or well-being. But then there are these examples:
— According to the Department of Transportation, the risk of airplane runway collisions today is rising, and "unfortunately, the Department isn’t doing enough about it," the committee report says.
— The government spends billions of dollars to upgrade its information technology systems. It spent more than $800 billion of taxpayer dollars from 1995 to 1997 to update the federal government’s automated identification systems. The upgraded system, however, failed to identify serial killer and illegal alien Raphael Resendez-Ramirez. The notorious "Railway Killer," as he was known, repeatedly slipped past Immigration and Naturalization Services and law enforcement agents in 1999.
— As recently as May 2000, the Government Accounting Office reported that structural fire safety "was a low priority for the Park Service and that serious deficiencies in the safety program remain." The report documents that more than 1,400 fires have occurred at National Park Service structures locations since 1990, killing five people and injuring many others.
RIP. Now Here's Your Check.
And while mismanagement, fraud and abuse don't always result in safety hazards, they are almost always costly. The report outlines $20 million in Medicare payments that are sent to dead people each year, and it points out fraud in the Unemployed Insurance Program and in student financial aid programs.
Even though the amount of money spent on the federal budget is growing each year, the additional funds aren’t necessarily addressing the "dangerous" shortage of employees and the poor training of the existing workforce, Thompson said.
The report also dubs the Department of Defense one of the most wasteful federal bureaucracies, spending billions without being able to account "for most of what it spends." It also fingered the Department of Interior, which has been reprimanded by a federal judge for losing more than $3 million in a trust for the country’s Native Americans.
"(It’s) a ticking time bomb," said Thompson, who said he would pursue reforms with the help of the new administration. "We’re going to be doing a lot of things better."
Tackling these issues is a goal that seems to cross ideological and party lines.
Some proponents of limited government argue that if the government were smaller, the budget would be slimmer and the opportunities for fraud and abuse would be reduced.
"I would suggest that if the government were smaller and federal budget were smaller, [Congress would] spend less time arguing about the budget as a whole and spend more time on oversight," said Stephen Slivinski of the libertarian Cato Institute. He added, "The question should be, why is the government doing all of this stuff in the first place?"
Meanwhile, some who support a large and active federal government decry certain aspects of federal largesse. "We’re battling corporate welfare," says Lexi Shultz of the US Public Interest Research Group, which has joined Friends of the Earth and Taxpayers for Common Sense in launching the so-called Green Scissors campaign. The campaign is targeting federally subsidized projects they say are endangering the environment.
"The principle behind this is (government) is not only wasting money, it’s doing harm," said Schultz.
Thompson, who is expected to turn over his chairmanship to Democratic ranking member Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, said he will work hard with other senators and the administration to make sure these issues are addressed.