Big gov­ern­ment ex­pec­ta­tions

Un­cle Sam doesn’t need to do more, he needs to do less

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

The gov­ern­ment has grown so large that no­body re­ally knows where its $3.8 tril­lion in an­nual spend­ing goes. Each year, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (GAO) tries — and fails — to make sense of fed­er­ala­gency ledgers. On Thurs­day, GAO re­fused once again to cer­tify the of­fi­cial bal­ance sheets be­cause they are so shod­dily kept.

The green eye­shades com­plained that De­fense Depart­ment books are so bad they can’t be au­dited. Through­out the rest of the gov­ern­ment, there are “hun­dreds of bil­lions” in un­rec­on­ciled funds. These are the same con­clu­sions the GAO has come to year­after-year for the past 15 years, and yet Un­cle Sam still re­fuses to get his act to­gether.

Pri­vate com­pa­nies would never be al­lowed to get away with main­tain­ing ledgers this sloppy, but Washington gives it­self a pass. The num­bers don’t add up for a sim­ple rea­son: The bu­reau­cracy doesn’t care about spend­ing your money wisely. Bu­reau­crats don’t even care enough to keep track of it.

In­stead of re­plac­ing in­ef­fec­tive pro­grams, con­gress­men love to cre­ate all-new ones ded­i­cated to ad­dress­ing the same goals. That re­sults in a lack of fo­cus. “If you’re spread­ing your tal­ent out across more sys­tems than you re­ally have to, and you’re not con­cen­trat­ing on man­ag­ing the per­for­mance of a fewer num­ber of sys­tems prop­erly, you’re go­ing to have even big­ger prob­lems,” Comptroller Gen­eral Gene L. Do­daro tes­ti­fied at a House Over­sight sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing Thurs­day.

Last year alone, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment spent nearly $80 bil­lion up­grad­ing in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy sys­tems. Even these over­priced com­put­ers couldn’t keep up with the fed­eral le­viathan.

So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care were among the worst of­fend­ers be­cause their books re­lied on im­plau­si­ble pro­jec­tions of fu­ture rev­enue. GAO used clas­sic un­der­state­ment to de­scribe the im­mi­nent col­lapse of FDR’S old-age Ponzi scheme. “So­cial Se­cu­rity is now in a neg­a­tive cash-flow po­si­tion,” the GAO re­port dead­panned. “The grow­ing gap be­tween rev­enues and spend­ing that is built into the cur­rent struc­ture of the bud­get leads to con­tin­ued growth in debt held by the public as a share of GDP; this is not sus­tain­able.”

That im­bal­ance has put Amer­ica’s fis­cal health in great jeop­ardy. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial 2011 fi­nan­cial state­ments for the U.S. gov­ern­ment, our public debt-to-gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) ra­tio will be 352 per­cent by the year 2085. That’s dou­ble the in­debt­ed­ness that hurled Greece into bank­ruptcy.

Pres­i­dent Obama claimed he was go­ing to go “line by line” through the bud­get to cut waste­ful spend­ing. It hasn’t hap­pened. Washington is spend­ing more to­day than ever, and Mr. Obama con­tin­ues to pro­pose yet more gov­ern­ment pro­grams to ad­dress old prob­lems. The gov­ern­ment can’t even do what it’s do­ing now prop­erly; it makes ab­so­lutely no sense to try to do more.

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