November 7, 2003

The Federal Waste Land
by Donald G. Mashburn

Just when we think Washington bureaucrats have run out of ways to waste our hard-earned tax dollars, they come up with something new. Like putting your taxpayer dollars in action by flushing them down the drain of bureaucratic self-promotion.

Bureaucrats seem to have a natural “gift” for wasteful spending. Or perhaps they possess a certain gene that compels them to spend other people’s money.

Both came to mind recently when the Daily Oklahoman and the Associated Press reported that Medicare hired a blimp to hover in the vicinity of the Texas State Fair and the Oklahoma-Texas football game in Dallas.

Apparently the humongous Medicare spending mill feels it doesn’t get enough publicity, so it shelled out $600,000 of taxpayers’ money to educate the public. And the message? Well, the blimp displayed an uplifting, information-rich message of: “1-800-MEDICARE.”

Yep, that’s it. A telephone number. A number you can find in any telephone book, or by asking a neighbor or relative. But the Medicare bureaucrats thought the few Texas State Fair visitors and football fans that gazed skyward needed that Medicare phone number then and there.

Never mind that most of the fairgoers and football fans were too young to be interested in Medicare. Never mind that Medicare’s phone number could have been advertised in metropolitan newspapers for just a fraction of the cost. Or that the phone number could have been mailed in the same envelope with the check that goes to every Social Security recipient.

But none of these would have been so showy or as expensive, or as wasteful. Let us hope that the Medicare honchos that are wasting $30 million to “educate” the public on their phone number are not also in charge of medical services for the sick and infirm.

Yet another example of wasteful spending in government is the U.S. Treasury’s $30 million program to educate us on the new twenty-dollar bill. And here large newspapers haven’t been neglected. Treasury has been running big – and expensive – newspaper ads to show the new artwork and materials used in the new twenty.

Only the Lord knows how much of this will be retained by the citizenry. For ages we got along with the old familiar $20 bill so loved by counterfeiters. Now that we’re changing, why advertise to counterfeiters worldwide every single feature of the newly designed bill?

The money printers need to get a life, so they won’t need a $30 million ego boost to show off their new product – which cost taxpayers another bundle.

It’s true that $30 million is small potatoes in Washington, where politicians attach “billion” to numbers like people in the real world attach the word “dollars” to their figures. But $30 million here and $30 million there soon add up.

Programs costing mere millions get little notice in today’s Washington, where Congress casually deals in billions. But whatever the size of the program, hard-working taxpayers don’t get to vote. But they will next November, if they can keep their minds from becoming cluttered with partisan claptrap.

And if they become informed enough to vote for sensible men and women who aren’t looking for a legacy paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Once upon a Congress, there were a few hardy patriots willing to do battle against the big spenders in Washington. But decades of entitlement programs seem to have diminished fiscal responsibility among the majority of people sent to Washington.

The 2004 elections will be tough for fiscal conservatives. So much is being promised by so many. Free prescription drugs and more federal aid to states and cities are just a few of the vote-grabbing programs clogging the pork pipeline. And as long we send tax hogs to Congress, we’ll have a surplus of political pork.

We should ignore promises of “a chicken in every pot,” and shoot for a Congress without a pork barrel, or at least a smaller one.