April 15 seems like a good time to ask. What is the government doing with our tax money?
That's the question I put to David Williams, vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan organization that educates the public about government mismanagement. His response was straightforward: The government is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in mismanagement and outright fraud.
An analysis of the 2001 federal budget conducted by Citizens Against Government Waste calculates that the government squandered $20.1 billion last year in "pork," or programs that use our tax dollars to benefit special interests. The jig goes something like this: Congressmen pump federal money into wealthy companies who in turn fill the legislator's coffers with campaign contributions and important projects in their home districts.
Sadly, according to Citizens Against Government Waste's annual surveys, "pork" spending has nearly doubled over the past seven years. Williams thinks the trend will continue at a cost of billions to taxpayers.
Some of the more egregious examples include The Farm Security Act; a $73 billion hike in agricultural subsidies enacted with the ostensible purpose of aiding impoverished farmers. However, restrictions that link these subsidies to select crops and total acreage ensure that wealthy farm owners, corporate executives and even other legislators benefit the most.
For example, basketball star Scottie Pippen and billionaires Charles Schwaab, David Rockefeller and Ted Turner each received six-digit farm subsidies over the past five years.
"Agriculture policy has become an exercise in "trickle-up" economics - taxing working Americans to subsidize the wealthiest farms," observed a recent report from The
Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
According to an upcoming report by the Citizens Against Government Waste, money appropriated for AIDS prevention is regularly funneled into questionable social programs. For example, STOP Aids project of San Francisco, received nearly $700,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001. Some of the subsidies were used to "sponsor a seminar on "How to make your man tremble with delight. ... In October, the project sponsored "the basics of sadomachiscism" for men "curious about leather and fetish sex."
"Flirting classes and orgasm coaches, that's not prevention," says Williams, who suggests that the money would be better served by spending it on safe sex campaigns or education initiatives in Third World countries.
Other examples of government waste range from $50,000 for a tattoo removal program in California to Joel-Peter Witkin's National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) subsidized photographs of severed limbs. From rice subsidies used to fatten the wallets of the wealthy to CDC workshops on sexual gratification, the list of government waste goes on endlessly and senselessly.
"We're trying to shame these people (legislators) into realizing that they're robbing the treasury. This is illegal appropriations and it's not what they were sent to Washington to do," demands Williams.
It does not matter.
New government programs designed to solicit a favorable reaction from the press and constituents continue to be layered upon the old without any general standard for measuring their success. Consequently, the bureaucracy grows ever larger with the inevitable result of duplication, mismanagement and general waste so pervasive that it costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year.
Perhaps we can't solve all of society's problems, but a good start would be to create rules of accountability for those agencies charged with spending our tax dollars to improve the quality of our lives.
That means linking federal funding to some baseline of accountability for government agencies. That means eliminating those agencies that fail to demonstrate their worth, and rewarding those that achieve their professed goals.
This tax season seems as good a time as any to demand that the government stop lining its pork barrels with our tax dollars.