‘Government waste’ is a tautology
Saipan — A lawmaker here has complained about “boxes and boxes of Personal Protective Equipment worth millions of dollars [that] have been dumped as trash.” He asks: where are the federal authorities who should be investigating this “wanton waste of federal monies”?
Well, get in line and take a number.
The Associated Press, in a news story in June, calls it “The Great Grift: How billions in Covid-19 relief aid was stolen or wasted.”
“Much of the theft was brazen, even simple,” the AP reported.
“Fraudsters used the Social Security numbers of dead people and federal prisoners to get unemployment checks. Cheaters collected those benefits in multiple states. And federal loan applicants weren’t cross-checked against a Treasury Department database that would have raised red flags about sketchy borrowers.
“Criminals and gangs grabbed the money. But so did a U.S. soldier in Georgia, the pastors of a defunct church in Texas, a former state lawmaker in Missouri and a roofing contractor in Montana.
“All of it led to the greatest grift in U.S. history, with thieves plundering billions of dollars in federal Covid-19 relief aid intended to combat the worst pandemic in a century and to stabilize an economy in free fall.”
Based on its analysis, the AP found that “fraudsters potentially stole more than $280 billion in Covid-19 relief funding; another $123 billion was wasted or misspent…. That number is certain to grow as investigators dig deeper into thousands of potential schemes.”
In Canada, the Fraser Institute said the Canadian government’s Covid programs “were ripe with problems including overpayments, funds provided to individuals and businesses not in genuine need, and excessive amounts of support that went above what was required to stabilize incomes.”
In the United Kingdom, The Guardian reported that the Department of Health “has wasted a total of £15bn [$18.185 billion] on unused personal protective equipment, Covid tests and vaccines.” The National Audit Office found “‘extraordinary waste’ along with failures of governance, oversight and financial controls.”
In Hampshire, England, Sky News reported in June that a “mountain of unused packs of personal protective equipment has been discovered dumped on land in the New Forest,” a natural reserve.
In April, Sky News quoted data from the opposition Labor Party, which indicated that PPE storage costs taxpayers £580,000 (over $700,000) a day. “The British public will be understandably sickened by this eye-watering waste of taxpayers' money,” Labor's deputy leader Angela Rayner was quoted as saying.
In January 2022, in San Francisco, California, ABC 7 reported that “More than $10M worth of masks [and] protective gear [were] left in the rain outside [the] Bay Area event center.” “This seems hard to believe,” ABC 7 stated, “but top county officials didn't know that thousands of boxes of PPE were moved outside and forgotten for months until [ABC 7] told them.”
In the CNMI, the lawmaker who complained about the discarded PPE said he was told that it cost $35,000 a month to store boxes of PPE in a warehouse. He said someone should be held responsible for the “waste” of the Coronavirus relief funds provided by the federal government.
According to David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute, when the U.S. government was rolling out President Obama’s “stimulus” programs in 2009, Boaz wrote a blog post titled “How to Spend a Trillion Dollars without Waste and Fraud.” He said the first line of his post was “You can’t.” Boaz quoted author and economist Linda Bilmes of Harvard University as saying that “in any organization that starts to increase spending very rapidly there are risks of waste, fraud and inefficiency.”
Said Boaz: “When you’re trying to shovel out trillions of dollars — money created by writing a number on a piece of paper and then writing checks on that sheet of paper — you can’t ask too many questions. The goal was to get money into people’s hands to ward off depression. And all the money did get into people’s hands. Just not necessarily into the intended hands.”
David Fahrenthold of the New York Times wrote: “In the midst of the pandemic, the government gave unemployment benefits to the incarcerated, the imaginary and the dead. It sent money to ‘farms’ that turned out to be front yards. It paid people who were on the government’s ‘Do Not Pay List.’ It gave loans to 342 people who said their name was ‘N/A.’ ”
You want to reduce wasteful government spending? Then reduce government spending. In the CNMI’s case, for starters, identify and get rid of redundant, duplicative and nonessential government departments, divisions, offices, programs and services.
But that’s not going to happen. Government workers and retirees comprise the largest bloc of voters in the CNMI. They are unlikely to vote for someone who will significantly reduce government spending on personnel, salaries and benefits.
Instead, there will be more calls for “investigations” and more “oversight hearings.” And there will be more politicians assuring the voting public that they can “address” this and other problems — if they’re elected into office.
As the economist Thomas Sowell once said, “The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.”
Zaldy Dandan is the editor of the CNMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on amazon.com/.