The Human Cost of Government Waste and Fraud
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There is something missing in the constant political argument about the size of the federal government. Most of the American public want federal programs when needed for disasters, national defense, medical research and the Medicare and Social Security safety net. What the public has said in many polls is that they want not big or smaller government, but effective government. And there is a whole group of good government groups in Washington that work diligently on exposing government fraud and waste and trying to fix it.
One of these organizations, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), has been exposing fraud and waste for almost 30 years.(Disclaimer: I founded POGO and still serve on its board of directors.) We have worked for decades to expose the wrongdoing and then push Congress and the administration to fix the problem so there won't be more waste and fraud that so disillusions the public.
POGO's former director of investigations, Beth Daley, worked on exposing MMS (Mineral Management Services, the bureaucracy that helped bring us the BP oil disaster) years before anyone else paid any attention to it. Through Beth's and others' work at POGO, the royalty program was changed and all the oil companies had to pay a fair price for the oil that was taken from federal lands. This lead to millions of dollars of income for the federal government. She was also a champion for national security whistleblowers and worked, as I have, to try to change the decades-long and insidious waste and fraud in the Department of Defense (DoD) and other national security agencies. It is so bad that the DoD now openly admits that it is unauditable, a dismal and awkward word that they use to say that they can't really figure out where their money is and how much is stolen or wasted.
While POGO and other good government groups can, with small resources, expose fraud and waste, and suggest changes, it is up to the federal government to do true oversight on themselves to stop the fraud and waste, recover the fraudulent contract money (are you listening Department of Justice?) and reform the system. All we can do is embarrass them in public and try to demand accountability. Beth dedicated ten years of her life to this effort.
So, who really suffers from the fraudulent and wasteful spending? The bureaucracies get their money, the members of Congress get jobs in their districts and we put it on the federal credit card even though China owns a large portion of our debt. But there are programs that get cut or have less money because of Big Oil's and Big Weapons' wasteful and fraudulent spending. One of these areas is health research, something that the US excels at (versus health care) and we can lead the world in saving lives.
Why do I bring up health research as something that could have more funding if we got control of the fraud and waste in our government? Because Beth died in her sleep Sunday, August 22, at age 43 after an excruciating fight with cancer for seven years. She leaves behind a grieving family including twin seven-year-old girls. She had the type of cancer that was genetically based and prime for a cure with the newest genetic research breakthroughs. Unfortunately, she didn't live to see that breakthrough. If the federal government had recovered just some of the waste and fraud that Beth uncovered in her years at POGO, perhaps that money could have been used to save her and so many others who face and fight cancer and other life-threatening diseases every day. That wasted money helped no one other than the recipients of the contracts and their government cronies.
President Eisenhower, a military man, said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." I am realistic and know that we need to buy weapons to protect our country and we need oil to keep America moving. However, a modern-day version of the that quote could be that every fraudulent or wasteful government contract that the government allows and tolerates, steals federal funding away from health research to save lives and endless suffering, education that can lift people out of their poverty and misery and energy research and manufacturing that can perhaps give us even more national security by giving us energy independence.
Beth's work will go on at POGO and other good government groups, but, after 30 years of exposing the fraud and waste, I am imploring all the branches of the federal government to look at what we and others uncover, recover the money and fix the problem and start seriously doing oversight on itself despite the cronyism and politics. The price of this fraud and waste seems at times to be vague, but the needless loss of just one mother to her young daughters is an illustration of the damage done. Ironically, Beth saved the government millions of dollars in oil royalties, but lost her life to a disease that still needs more research funding from that same government.
After uncovering fraud for 30 years and being very frustrated at the lack of government reform to stop it, I will be launching a new column for Truthout in the fall called "Solutions: Making Government Work." I will be writing some of the columns myself with anonymous sources on small slices of solutions to march through the mounds of government waste and fraud and I will also have guest columnists who can put their name in the column and use the wisdom that they have seen in their neck of the bureaucracy to fix the system to stop or at least curb this needless government fraud and waste. I want to dedicate this new column to Beth's memory and work in the hope of fixing the federal government, instead of just exposing the problems. To learn more about Beth's amazing life, go here.I invite Truthout readers to contact me if you have a realistic solution for a part of the federal government and would like me to write about it in the column or if you would like to submit a column. We all need to pick up where Beth had to stop and keep on in her memory to fix this problem that damages so much of our national life.