You’ve seen the headlines. Government agency spends [Absurd Amount] on [Ridiculous Project]. The stories come so often they tend to blend together. Ask anyone who watches just a minimum amount of news if the government spends taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently. Depending on their age, they’ll probably mention the government’s $600 hammer or the shrimp on a treadmill study. Either way, government waste has become so rampant, it often gets a shoulder shrug from citizens and Congressmen alike.
We’re supposed to chalk it up as the cost of a $4 trillion dollar bureaucracy, that any waste is just a minuscule amount compared to the massive federal budget. Defenders of projects labeled as wasteful often cite that it should not matter because it’s just a small percentage of the federal budget. But it goes to show you the real disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country. It may take the average American 10 years of hard work to pay the equivalent of $100,000 in taxes that went to one wasteful project or research study. Treating $100,000 as an inconsequential amount really undermines the hard work of taxpayers.
It also perpetuates a problem of a lax mindset towards federal spending. Because the federal government is so large and has so many different functions, there is no single program or expenditure that will truly add up to a “consequential” portion of the entire federal budget. That means that if every appropriator, department head, grant officer or other federal decisionmaker believes that a million or even a billion dollars is just a small sliver of the $4 trillion pie, then there is no standard for how to best steward our tax dollars.
Instead of comparing government waste relative to the size of everything, we should think about government waste in terms of what could have been. Every dollar spent on a low-priority program or wasteful project is a dollar that could have gone to something else – either in the federal government or in the private sector. For example, during the Ebola crisis, the National Institute of Health (NIH) director said a vaccine could have been found sooner if not for the stagnant funding the agency received. However, the agency seemed to find the money for Swedish massages for rabbits…
Congress rarely breaks from its spending routine, ignoring numerous fiscal warnings from government and independent agencies. This allows hundreds of duplicative or wasteful programs to continue – because they don’t add up to “consequence.” But there is a prominent example of how public outcry can disrupt the status quo. In 2005, Congress approved the infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, a $400 million bridge to a town of 50 people in Alaska that is connected by a ferry. $400 million is only a tiny fraction of the federal budget, but that wasn’t how the American people wanted their money to be spent. While it was initially approved by Congress, it became a symbol of federal waste and was never built because of the public outrage it sparked.
Younger Americans have grown up with access to infinite information at their fingertips. Why shouldn’t government spending be the same way? We believe whatever the government spends money on, taxpayers should know about it. Not only will this provide the transparency over their tax dollars that the American public deserves, but it will serve as an accountability check to ensure the priorities of Congress and the federal bureaucracy are in line.
One of the biggest problems in Washington is that rarely does anyone take a step back and take a holistic look at what we are doing, whether it is working, and how we can improve. Setting national priorities and enforcing accountability through transparency is essential to the success of future generations. That starts with looking at small dollar expenditures as what could have been. Check out our meme generator to learn more!