State Depart­ment spent $36.5M polling opin­ions of for­eign­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY KELLAN HOW­ELL

Would you spend money to find out what peo­ple in Spain think about their med­i­cal in­sur­ance or what peo­ple in Aus­tria think about their gov­ern­ment? That’s ex­actly what the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has been do­ing, us­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans’ tax dol­lars.

Since 2007 the U.S. State Depart­ment has spent over $36.5 mil­lion to sur­vey cit­i­zens in for­eign coun­tries on a wide range of top­ics, in­clud­ing gen­eral pub­lic opin­ion polling on how their own gov­ern­ments — many of them U.S. al­lies — are per­form­ing. And the big­gest spike in that spend­ing occurred on Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s watch as sec­re­tary of state.

The polls in­cluded such top­ics as a “sur­vey of med­i­cal in­sur­ance in Spain” cost­ing $24,727, an “Elite Sur­vey in Rus­sia” that cost $117,000 and a “Pub­lic Opin­ion Poll Sur­vey to Ad­dress Pub­lic At­ti­tudes To­ward Do­mes­tic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs in Aus­tria,” cost­ing $50,728.

The ex­am­ples were com­piled by fed­eral spend­ing watch­dog OpenTheBooks.com in a larger over­sight re­port on fed­eral pub­lic opin­ion polling to be pub­lished af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

Spend­ing watch­dogs say th­ese polls, while in­for­ma­tive, should be con­ducted and funded by pri­vate re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions, not the U.S. tax­payer.

“As in­ter­est­ing and as im­por­tant as for­eign at­ti­tudes may be, U.S. tax­pay­ers don’t need to sub­si­dize polling oper­a­tions that should be done by other coun­tries or pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Adam An­drze­jew­ski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com and the au­thor of the up­com­ing over­sight re­port.

“What is the pub­lic pur­pose to spend mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars on sur­veys of the cit­i­zens of our al­lies like Ja­pan, Ger­many, Poland, Italy, Spain and Eng­land?” Mr. An­drze­jew­ski added.

Richard Man­ning, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Lim­ited Gov­ern­ment, ar­gued that the U.S.-funded polls could strain re­la­tions with for­eign gov­ern­ments.

“While the State Depart­ment has an ob­vi­ous in­ter­est in hav­ing their fin­gers on the pulse of at­ti­tudes around the world, I can’t help but won­der how our gov­ern­ment would feel if Putin con­ducted a se­ries of polls here in Amer­ica to test Amer­i­can sup­port for the Obama regime and used it as part of his for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sion-making?” Mr. Man­ning said.

For spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to poll cit­i­zens in for­eign coun­tries at the ex­pense of the U.S. tax­payer, the State Depart­ment wins this week’s Golden Ham­mer, a weekly dis­tinc­tion awarded by The Wash­ing­ton Times high­light­ing the most egre­gious ex­am­ples of ques­tion­able fed­eral spend­ing.

“Polling is big busi­ness, and it seems to be a par­tic­u­larly lu­cra­tive one when you can get the U.S. tax­payer to foot the bill.While there is an ob­vi­ous jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the State Depart­ment to be aware of pub­lic at­ti­tudes around the world, the sub­jects and breadth of the polling con­ducted around the world out of Foggy Bot­tom has the stench of po­lit­i­cal spoils,” Mr. Man­ning said.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the ven­dors be­ing paid to con­duct in­ter­na­tional polls are billed as “mis­cel­la­neous for­eign con­trac­tors.” Of the over $36.5 mil­lion that has been spent through FY2014 on polling, over $34 mil­lion was paid to un­named con­trac­tors ac­cord­ing to the con­tracts com­piled from US­ASpend­ing.gov.

Ac­cord­ing to the data, the depart­ment spent sig­nif­i­cantly more on in­ter­na­tional polling dur­ing the years that Mrs. Clin­ton served as sec­re­tary of state. In 2007 the State Depart­ment spent just un­der $2 mil­lion on for­eign sur­veys. That num­ber nearly dou­bled in 2008 to over $3.8 mil­lion. The spend­ing con­tin­ued to in­crease in 2009, Mrs. Clin­ton’s first year as sec­re­tary, to over $5 mil­lion. In FY2012 alone — the height of Mrs. Clin­ton’s term as sec­re­tary and the year of Pres­i­dent Obama’s re-elec­tion — the State Depart­ment spent over $7.5 mil­lion on in­ter­na­tional polls.

And dur­ing Mrs. Clin­ton’s ten­ure as sec­re­tary, the polling con­tracts be­came less trans­par­ent. Many of the projects were sim­ply de­scribed with one word, “sur­vey,” and were billed to “mis­cel­la­neous” for­eign con­trac­tors.

But in 2014, af­ter Mrs. Clin­ton left the depart­ment, in­ter­na­tional sur­vey spend­ing fell to $2.7 mil­lion.

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