- A $43 million dollar gas station that was hardly used, $375,000 to study the dating habits of senior citizens and a $2.6 million weight loss program for truck drivers are among the 100 spending projects and federal regulations that are emblematic of government activity that continues to send our national debt into the stratosphere, according to the research of Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
Lankford is a the author of "Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball." The report carries on the annual tradition established by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., whom Lankford succeeded in the U.S. Senate.
The report lists 68 spending projects Lankford deems to be wasteful and 32 government regulations he says are bleeding taxpayers dry. With the federal budget now at $3.8 trillion, Lankford says there was no shortage of options to include in the list.
"We picked 100 items from different agencies to kind of give a thumbnail of all we've seen. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but everything from Russian cigarette research to a national park study of what do bugs do in rural areas where there's no light. It was just on and on and on as we began to research and pull things out," said Lankford.
Lankford says the spending items and regulations were chosen to show how widespread the waste is across the federal government and any taxpayer dollars wasted are too many.
"Some of these were extremely large and expensive like [Earned Income Tax Credit] fraud, which is about $17.5 billion a year. And some things are fairly small, a $30,000 silent Shakespeare festival in Virginia. We tried to get a good perspective," said Lankford.
In addition to bloated spending, like four million dollars for each successfully trained Syrian rebel or $283,500 to study the the small woodland bird known as the gnatcatcher, Lankford is also focusing in on burdensome regulations. In fact, the regulations listed in "Federal Fumbles" constitute $800 billion in lost taxpayer resources compared with $105 billion frittered away in frivolous spending.
"It is costing the American consumer more money to be able to buy a good or service because of a federal regulation that is not their job, it's the job of a state, or they overreached and it's become a real issue and a real problem," said Lankford.
He offered multiple examples, starting with the government making loans harder to get in some parts of the country.
"It's become incredibly difficult to get a home loan in many rural areas of the country because of new qualified mortgage regulations that have come down and narrowed the number of banks that can actually do home loans and it's very difficult to do," said Lankford.
Environmental regulations are also among the costliest headaches.
"The Waters of the United States has been a much-disputed conversation, where even the (Army) Corps of Engineers, that is actually tapped with implementing it, is fighting the EPA to say, 'We shouldn't do this. We don't have the legal authority.' And courts have already stepped in to bar it. If that ever goes into effect, it will cost the American taxpayers a tremendous amount of money, just in day to day consumer costs," said Lankford.
He wasn't finished. Lankford says contradictory federal programs cost taxpayers additional billions just on work benefits alone.
"Right now, you're eligible for Social Security Disability, which by definition means you cannot work. At the same time you're eligible for unemployment insurance, which by definition means you can work. You should not be eligible for both programs at the same time. but we currently are. Even the president agrees on that," said Lankford, who says a Democratic colleague is looking to clean up another fraud risk due to bureaucratic nonsense.
"Senator Tom Carper, who is a Democrat from Delaware, has a proposal dealing with something called the Death Master Files. The Social Security Administration has a list of all individuals that have passed away. That list is not shared with other entities like IRS. So we have these fake Social Security numbers floating around and the American taxpayers are ripped off because of it," said Lankford.
In addition to listing the problems afflicting American taxpayers, "Federal Fumbles" also offers a solution to each issue.
"We make sure we're not proposing anything and saying this is a big problem and saying it's too bad it's there but there's no way to solve it," said Lankford. "Each of these has a way to solve and we list with each one of them. Some of them are straightforward and simple like just end the program. Some of them will require legislation, but all of them can be fixed."
One lawmaker's idea of waste may be another's essential government program. Lankford says he's trying to build a consensus on what gets hacked out of the budget.
"We put a list of 100 out and we're encouraging every other office to create a list and be able to put their list out. Let's find common ground. You may not agree with all 100 of ours but I bet you can agree with 80 of them. Let;s get those done. And they may have others that they find and we can also agree on. The key thing is we start to go after it," said Lankford.
The senator says lawmakers must come to grips with the need to get the nation's debt-ridden fiscal house in order - and soon.
"If we balanced next year (current deficit is $450 billion) and then next year we had a $50 billion surplus, we would have to do that $50 billion surplus every year for 380 years in a row just to be able to pay off our debt. Our debt continues to skyrocket and there seems to be very little attention. What we're trying to do is redirect our attention back to the wasteful spending and the regulations that are slowing down our economy," said Lankford.
As for him and his staff, Lankford says this report serves as their marching orders over the next 12 months.
"We're taking them all one at a time and all at a time if that makes sense. This list of 100 becomes the list for our staff and our to-do list for the next year," said Lankford.
For information on "Federal Fumbles," visit lankford, senate.gov.