First Featured In The Weekly Standard
Congress recently voted to raise the budget caps that limited the amount of money they can spend. While doing so, they claimed that the budget caps were so tight they were having devastating and lasting consequences for the government.
Could that possibly be true? Could the federal government’s real problem be that it doesn’t have enough money? We decided to check in on just one department, the Environmental Protection Agency. And here’s what we found:
Scott Pruitt’s Spending Spree: Scott Pruitt has been front and center for the past few months. In September, the Inspector General found that Pruitt’s office had plans to build a $25,000 soundproof booth. The New York Times reported shortly after that the booth was originally quoted for $10,000, but ended up costing $43,000. On top of that, Pruitt spent $9,000 sweeping the office for listening devices and installing fingerprint-activated locks. He also spent an astounding $2.7 million for 19 agents to provide around the clock security. What is perhaps most infuriating is the amount spent on first-class travel, including dalliances to Europe. A Politico report estimated that Pruitt had spent over $100,000 on first-class flights due to “specific ongoing threats.”
Fat Rats Breathing Truck Fumes: It was recently revealed that the EPA has been wasting millions of tax dollars on outdated and misleading air pollution tests on animals at its National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. The facility—which has a $116 million budget and uses 20,000 rabbits, mice, and other animals each year in deadly tests—has been forcing animals to breathe diesel exhaust and force-feeding animals lard to make them obese and then exposing them to air pollution. As JunkScience.com’s editor remarked about the tests, “Mice are not little people when it comes to studying the potential health effects, like cancer, of low-level exposures to chemicals in the environment.”
Free Conference Calls That Cost $1.2 Million: Everyone hates boring conference calls, especially if the substance could have just been covered in an email. Nevertheless, conference calls can be a necessary evil, even in the federal government. In 2016, the EPA spent about $1.2 million on audio conference calls with six or fewer participants. That already sounds a little pricey for conference calls, but consider that the EPA already has the ability to conference up to six participants for free.
But because the agency had no official policies or procedures on conference calls, workers wasted over a million dollars on a service designed to accommodate over 100 people when only a handful of participants were involved.
EPA Employees On Leave: We’ve all had days where we’re “physically” at work, but not quite there “mentally.” Imagine a job where you weren’t there either mentally or physically? A few EPA employees have been living the dream. An EPA report found that 8 employees recorded years of working at the EPA (cashing checks along the way) but never showed up to work. Turns out those employees were on administrative leave which totaled over 20,000 hours and cost over $1 million. But here’s the kicker: At the time of the report, there was no general statutory authority for the use of paid administrative leave. However, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) allowed agencies to use it. Since then, Congress passed the Administrative Leave Act which finally set some standards.
$14,000 Volunteers: By law, government animal testing is overseen by committees that must include members of the public to—in theory—keep deliberations about how tax money is spent honest and in line with taxpayers’ expectations and values. Not so much at the EPA. The White Coat Waste Project uncovered that the public member of EPA’s animal testing oversight committee has been receiving a taxpayer-funded annual salary of $14,000 for at least 5 years. This is an apparent violation of federal guidelines stating that public committee members should only receive, “Nominal compensation . . . or reimbursement for expenses such as parking and travel costs” and that “any compensation for participation should not be so substantial as to influence voting or reflect an important source of income.“ And you wonder how the EPA’s ridiculous taxpayer-funded animal tests keep getting approved?
$693,000 On Unused Parking Spaces At EPA Headquarters: You already knew the EPA was charged with protecting human health and the environment, but did you know it’s also king of the blacktop? A recent report found that the EPA headquarters in Washington D.C. and an Atlanta office paid $1.5 million over the last two years to subsidize parking for its employees. Which is fine. Except that almost half of that money went to parking spaces that went unoccupied: The EPA paid $693,000 for 103 parking spots that went unused. The report also found that the $850,000 worth of parking subsidies that were being used were overly generous and contrary to the EPA’s mission. Protecting the environment or creating Kramer parking spots?