Is it wasteful or watchful government spending?

Government Waste 2014

Last week, we talked about reducing our holiday waste. This week, let’s take a moment to consider our government’s spending habits – and sometimes wasteful expenses.

Most of us agree that federal government spending is out of control. We are sometimes outraged by earmarks or “pork” spending –federal or state government spending on projects that only benefit a Congressmember’s district. The Citizens Against Government Waste expands the definition of pork to include, among other criteria, non-competitive awards, money that was not specifically authorized, or greatly exceeding last year’s funding.

A “Hawaii Pork Report” hasn’t been published in a few years (re-read the “2010 Hawaii Pork Report“), though Khon2 News is starting to highlight government inefficiencies. For example, last month “Always Investigating” uncovered almost $1 million wasted by the Hawaii Department of Education on unused timeclocks, purchased in 2010 and never installed.

At the national level, two reports were released recently that identify government waste and “pork” in Hawaii. You can decide whether these are wasteful or legitimate uses of taxpayer money.

Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn’t Want You To Read” (October 2014), released by Senator Tom Coburn, highlighted one way that Hawaii has benefited from wasteful federal spending.

Should government money be spent to promote and expand private business?
“A company in Hawaii even received taxpayer funds to produce mead from tropical fruit,” the Wastebook exclaims. In fact, under the USDA’s Value-Added Producer program, three Hawaii companies received “Value-Added Producer Grant Awards” in 2014: Waipio Valley Taro Products received $49,500 to expand production of poi and kulolo and conduct a marketing and branding campaign about the nutritional benefits and history of the taro plant; Emily Taaroa dba Punachicks Farm received $20,000 to improve and increase capacity to provide fresh, organic chicken; and Double Spirals on Tap received $22,322 to conduct a feasibility study and business plan to produce mead.

These amounts will seem like pocket change if you read the “2014 Congressional Pigbook,” published by the Citizens Against Government Waste. The Pigbook identifies three instances of federal government “pork” spending in the millions of dollars in Hawaii.

Should government money be spent on a private research, education, and public policy organization?
The federal government spent $5.9 million for The East-West Center in 2014, or $109.7 million since 1997, to promote better relations with Pacific and Asian nations. “The center was established by Congress in 1960 with no congressional hearings, and over the State Department’s opposition,” the report states. It is “an independent, public, nonprofit organization” for research, education, training, and public policy. Note: I’m not familiar with the East-West Center, so I don’t know whether federal funding (rather than state or private funding) is appropriate.

Should the federal government “equalize” the costs of utilities nationwide through subsidies? Could the same outcome be achieved, with less spending, by expanding the existing RUS Electric Loan program?
Hawaii received $10 million in 2014 for high energy cost grants through the Department of Agriculture, which assists communities whose energy costs exceed 275% of the national average. “This may sound like a bright idea, but the RUS Electric Loan program is intended to achieve the same objective,” the report criticizes.

Is the federal government responsible for drug enforcement coordination within state and local agencies? Should the federal government’s responsibility be limited to interstate coordination?
Hawaii was one of 10 states to benefit from $45.1 million in federal money as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA) at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Originally intended for border states, members of Congress have used earmarks to expand HIDTA to non-border states,” the report explains. Note: I am not familiar with drug trafficking in Hawaii, so I don’t know whether the HIDTA program is necessary and effective – or whether the money could be better used in a different drug enforcement program. Interested readers can download the “Hawaii Drug Market Analysis 2011” on the US Department of Justice website.

The bottom line is that it’s easy to spend someone else’s money. In your opinion, are these examples of government waste or are they necessary, savvy local spending? If you could allocate your tax dollars to specific programs, what would you choose to fund?

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